We saw more elephants in Pai; this time is was less magical.

We came to a crossroads on the walk from Hotsprings Resort to Pai Canyon; on one corner of the crossroads was an elephant, seemingly out in the open. I walked over and realised it had a chain around its leg, anchoring it to a small post. It just stood completely still. We continued up the road, only to catch up with two more of these beautiful creatures, with happy tourists sitting on their backs, and their owners leading the way on a “trek”, bullhooks in hand. It was the bullhooks that did it for me; I was reminded of Water for Elephants, a book I read a few years ago about the mistreatment of elephants in the circus.

I guess this was a reality check; an insight into the harsh, but very common practices of unethical animal tourism, and the injustice that many of these animals endure. Perhaps the experience I’ve had with elephants so far lulled me into a false sense of thinking it was common for them to be cared for a looked after with such love. I knew the elephants at the sanctuary were formerly mistreated, and I knew that such mistreatment still happens all around the tourist areas, but seeing it first hand was really difficult.

It makes me angry that people take advantage of such loving, trusting, and intelligent animals; but I guess it is these very characteristics that make them so easy to control.

Elliot reminded me that these are people living on the edge of poverty, making money from the resources available to them. I don’t know if I’d be able to look past the mistreatment of such beautiful, majestic animals, in favour of my income; but I’m also grossly aware and grateful that choosing between my livelihood and my morals in such a way is a decision I’ll likely never have to make.

Tourism is changing; people are becoming more aware and critical of what they see. I can only live in hope that one day, demand for such actives will be so low that these businesses will be forced to change their ways. For now, I can only be conscious of the choices I make.

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