Martin Clunes rode an elephant. What’s the big deal?

Posted on 14 May 2019 by

Daniela Valla

in the Animals in the wild blog

Many animal lovers aren’t aware of the suffering of elephants in the tourism industry.

On Tuesday 13th May, footage of actor and TV presenter Martin Clunes riding an elephant came to light. In the video, Clunes can be seen climbing and riding on an elephant, the same way that thousands of tourists do every day in countries like Nepal, Thailand and Indonesia.

Animal welfare charities and the UK’s public have been outraged by this behaviour – but why? Let’s look at what really lies behind “just an elephant ride”.

Spirits crushed

In order to make elephants submit to rides and other human interactions, they are forced through a horrific training process known as "the crush". It involves physical restraints, inflicting severe pain and withholding food and water.

The cruelty does not end after the crush. When not performing or used for rides most elephants are kept on chains, unable to socialise. This is hugely damaging to their physical and psychological well-being. By the time tourists come to ride an elephant, it may look at peace - the sad reality is that this elephant's spirit has been broken.

Why is this still happening?

Our research shows that the vast majority of tourists would NOT participate in an elephant encounter after knowing the suffering that lies behind making them tame enough to interact with humans.

The reason there’s still a demand for elephant rides is that most tourists simply are not aware of this cruelty happening behind-the-scenes, and don’t know how to spot it. Many low-welfare venues will also market themselves as “sanctuaries” just to attract good-willing animal lovers.

How to see elephants ethically

To enjoy seeing these beautiful animals and keep them safe at the same time, we recommend visiting an observation-only venue. You’ll also still help to provide local people with a vital, sustainable income from wildlife tourism.

Elephant-friendly venues, operating according to best possible welfare, will not allow for any direct tourist-elephant interaction. This includes riding, bathing, feeding and close-up selfies.

How you can help

Misinformation (and lack of information) are the greatest driver of this cruel industry. The biggest thing you can do to help elephants in entertainment is to raise awareness and educate your friends and family about high-welfare wildlife tourism.

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