Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Travel Experience I Had, & Hope You Never Do: Animal Abuse

In life, there are always the good experiences of your life that you learn and grow from. Conversely, there can be the bad experiences- the ones are so bad you don't want to remember- that you also learn from. Today, I'm going to talk about a travel experience I had this past year, and why I hope to never experience that again. More importantly than that, I hope this is an experience you never have.

feeding the elephants in Koh Samui, Thailand
Nick and I spent our honeymoon in Thailand, with several weeks in Koh Samui and then a few days in Bangkok. One of the things I wanted to most do while in Thailand was get to see, play, and pet with the elephants. After a lot of research, we selected a tour of Koh Samui that included some time with the elephants. Upon arrival at the elephant camp, I experienced about 30 seconds of pure joy and happiness, immediately purchasing a basket of bananas to feed to the elephants. And then, that joy and happiness came crashing down.

notice the chain in this picture
Just examine this picture for a moment, and think about the size of an elephant. Asian elephants, elephas maximus, can be up to 10 feet tall (3 meters) and weigh up to 5.5 tons (4,990 kilos). Compare the size of this elephant to the length of the chain it is tied up to- being generous, it was a 2 foot (about .6 meter) chain. Upon seeing this, and realizing that all this elephant did, day in and day out, was move within a 4 foot radius and 'enjoy' bananas tourists fed to it, I felt sick to my stomach.

One of the elephants straining to reach a banana
just heartbreaking
Honestly, I'm not really sure what else there is to say. Throughout Thailand, one of the common tourist attractions is the ability to see exotic animals. Personally, I had been excited to see- and ride- on the elephants, until I saw the condition of their living arrangements. It is sad to state that this is common practice throughout Thailand, not only for elephants but for many types of animals. As you are walking the streets, you will often see Thai people with exotic animals- koalas, iguanas, and more. These animals are typically mistreated, and even drugged, while they are out 'working'. If there is one thing you do while in Thailand, I ask that it is not to participate in any form of the animal mistreatment.

The 'safari' tour we purchased was supposed to include some time to hang out with the elephants, a 30-minute ride on the elephants, and then conclude with an elephant show, in which the elephants would perform various tricks and stunts. After seeing the chain of the first elephant, my husband and I left the facility. Now, let me preface this- I am not an extremist in terms of animal rights (yes, of course I believe in animal rights). I'm just saying I'm not yelling at people who choose to wear fur, I don't boycott zoos (in the U.S.), et cetera et cetera. We read some reviews that said the conditions weren't the best, but dismissed it as 'crazy animal rights people'. Boy, were we wrong. Not only were the conditions 'not the best', they were abysmal. However, the condition of these elephants absolutely horrified my husband and I to the point where we were not comfortable being in the facility. We didn't want to make a big deal about it so we just chose to not participate and wait for the rest of the group.

While we were sitting outside the facility waiting, we were approached by one of the workers. He asked if we wanted to see the elephant show, and we politely declined. Then, another one of the workers, about 5'4 and 140 pounds, approached us. After telling him we weren't interested in the elephant show and just wanted to leave, he started to almost taunt us, saying "Why you no want watch elephant show?" At this point, I am grateful that Nick, who is a fairly muscular 6'0 210 lbs, stood up and replied to him "How about I tie you up to a one-foot chain and feed you bananas all day?" He seemed to get the point that we weren't interested in watching the show.

Island Safari: the tour group with whom we experienced the worst travel experience of our lives
The tour group we had gone through was Island Safari. However, many different tour groups were utilizing this same facility. I am aware that there are elephant sanctuaries in Thailand, and hope those elephants are treated well. However, before you consider taking one of these tours I highly advise you to think about the treatment of these animals and what goes on behind the scenes. We saw two-foot chains right in front of us, so I would hate to think about the behind the scenes mistreatment. Before seeing this, we had planned on going to the Koh Samui snake farm, which is supposed to feature a ton of different snakes and scorpions. After our experience with Island Safari, we knew there was no way we would be further participating in anything to do with animals while in Thailand. This was singlehandedly the worst travel experience of my life, and I hope one you never choose to experience.

48 comments:

  1. I also felt terribleeeee when we went for a corrida de toros for our honeymoon in Spain, we thought it was something more grand and not so bloody & predictable. they get the most tiny of bulls and harass them until they feel defeated, i thought at some point the toreros there will also take bigger chances by doing most of the corrida themselves & actually get "more dangerous", but this didn't happen they usually come in when the bulls are already tired by being previously harmed by the crew with sticks and punches, it was just horrible. i will truly never go back to one and since then i can honestly say we want to engage in more animal rights protection

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    1. Ana, I know how you feel after this experience. I had also almost forgotten that on vacation when I was young (not even 10) my family went to a bullfight in Mexico. Similarly, it was absolutely terrible and we left during it.

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  2. Oh my gosh, now I feel sick to my stomach. Those poor elephants. I don't like to go to the zoo in our area because I can't stand to see the animals pinned up although I'm happy to say that they have large roaming areas and none of them are tied up. Even though they have really large areas, they always seem to pace in front of the fence back and forth all day long. I feel so sad that they want out. My grands talk me into taking them to see the animals though and I give in.

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    1. That's exactly how I feel- Zoos are one thing, but this was straight up animal abuse. It took me this long to write about it because it is hard to talk about it. I hate looking at the pictures, but knew the pictures were necessary to communicate the extremes of the abuse.

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  3. Awww that is just so terrible! I don't think I'd be able to stand to be there and look at that. How cruel! I'm a true animal lover and that just makes me sick. I hope that I'll never see this anywhere or I would have something to say. When I go to the zoo's I often feel a bit sad, but I'm glad they're all roaming around. I've never seen any animals chained up like that. So sad!

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    1. Kat, that is exactly how we felt. Zoos are one thing because they have room and space to roam…but a two-foot chain for an elephant is nothing. We knew we couldn't stay and participate, which is why we left.

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  4. So, so sad. You guys definitely did the right thing leaving. It would be great to know what organizations we could donate a little too to help prevent this and promote animal rescues. Thanks for sharing, a difficult topic and experience!

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    1. Ashley, thank you so much- this was a hard post to write, and it took me 9 months to write it because of that. Even now I have a terrible feeling in my stomach. I'm hoping that one day there are tourists who see this post and don't participate in the tours- hopefully, if the tours stop getting customers they are forced to shut down or change their practices.

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  5. I'm glad you felt the need to share this. So many people go on vacations and contribute to the exploitation of animals, sometimes realizing it and sometimes not. It takes guts and conviction to say "you know what, I paid for this already, but I don't agree with it, and I'm not going to contribute to it." Good for you.

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    1. Thank you, Natalye. Because this happened in Thailand, we knew there was no chance of getting our money back- and we hated that they would keep it, because it would just perpetuate the abuse. It was truly the worst part of our trip, and I hope somebody sees this post and decides not to go on a tour while there.

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  6. It makes me sad to think of the animals chained like that. Like you, I'm not an someone who gets upset with furt and things like that. We hunt (both my husband and I) but seeing an animal chained like that does hurt my heart. And good for you not to continue to do the tour.

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    1. Amy, that is how I feel. My family hunts, I don't have a problem really with fur or zoos…but I do have a problem with a two-foot chain. Like you, even now my heart and stomach hurt thinking about it.

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  7. This just breaks my heart. Really sad. These poor animals don't deserve this treatment. Why not give them space to roam so long as the tourists are safe? I would want to get up close to any animal living in these conditions. Wonder how we can help to make a change?

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    1. MJ- you are exactly right, they don't deserve this treatment. I'm hoping that tourists going to Ko Samui will research, see this post, and realize that they can't go on the tours. It just seems morally wrong.

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  8. I hate when animals are abused for the pleasure of tourists! It's similiar in Norway with all those whale watching tours where there are often way too many boats in the small fjords, leaving the whales no room to escape, and of course in dog-sledding where sometimes the dogs are not exactly treated like they should be :(

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    1. Van, I totally agree. I had never realized there were problems in Norway with the whales. It is just heartbreaking to think about.

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  9. Those elephants look so gentle. What a pity that they are badly treated.

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    1. Vanessa, exactly. It makes me sick to think about.

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  10. I have heard a lot on this issue in Thailand, it is absolutely heartbreaking! I would have had to leave the facility as well.

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    1. Kaelene, that is just how we felt. It was so terrible to see in person, we knew we couldn't stay.

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  11. I know there are some fantastic elephant sanctuaries in Thailand that are helping protect the Asian elephant, but this photo is so sad.

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    1. Mar- I know that there are some that are doing good things, but I worry it is few and far between. I'm hoping that eventually, tourists may see this post and stay away from anywhere that seems sketchy in the least bit. I've also heard rumors that some of the sanctuaries are actually run by the same people who do the tours, and once an elephant is 'used up' for tour purposes, only then does it get to go to the sanctuaries.

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  12. Oh no, this is not good at all. I am a huge animal lover and I do not like seeing animals abused. They have feelings too and no one human or animal in my opinion, deserves to be abused.

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    1. Exactly, Victoria. It was so hard to see, which is why we left.

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  13. How horrible - elephants are such beautiful and majestic creatures, what an awful thing to do to them. Good for you for deciding not to go on the rest of the tour, and for being a voice on your blog against the mistreatment going on there.

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    1. Thank you, Sara! I am hoping other travelers read this and realize it is not something they want to participate in. I had never imagined how horribly the elephants would be treated!

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  14. I appreciate your honest account of this experience- it does look absolutely tragic, especially since elephants are my favorite :(( When in SE Asia I will definitely be either heavily researching places like this or probably avoiding them all together... I think it's the best thing Western tourists can do to show these sort of institutions that this isn't cute or funny. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Cynthia…I know there are some places in SE Asia/ Thailand that are elephant sanctuaries, and supposedly treat the animals better. When I read reviews online, I saw some bad reviews, but also tons of good ones- so I assumed the bad ones were just 'crazy animal rights activists' and that it would be similar conditions to a zoo. Boy, was I ever wrong.

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  15. That poor elephant, that really is animal abuse. Why humans feel the need to chain any animal which was born to roam the wild is beyond me. I would rather the elephant was free in it's own habitat than chained up for tourists to see. Yes it's great to see these creatures up close and personal but surely it's better to see them at their happiest where they're free to do as they please and live life as they were meant to :(

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    1. Fiona, that's exactly how I feel. It was so heartbreaking, and my husband and I knew we couldn't participate further.

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  16. I'm actually crying reading this. I can't imagine the kind of life their forced to live. I mean, they could be free out in the wild and instead their chained up. It kills me. This is awful.

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    1. Krysten, this was a very hard post to write. It took me seven months, and even now I don't feel I have the proper words. It is just wrong.

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  17. I hope the Google Gods rank this page up high when other people are searching for their adventures on their Thailand trips. The worst thing you can do for a business is to write up something like this and share it with everyone to see. I hope that you wrote this on TripAdviser and other websites too! This would surely deter others who know better from visiting this place. Thank you for sharing your story and for staying true to your beliefs.

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    1. Krystal, THANK YOU! I hope the Google Gods are with both of us on this. I did post on TripAdvisor, and as many sites as I could- with the pictures of the chains. If I had seen pictures and a review like this before, I would not have gone on the tour, thats for sure!

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  18. Aaawh. This breaks my heart.

    I am always happy when bloggers address this and like Krystal mentioned I hope it spreads the word

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    1. Tea, it was so hard to write about because I really just don't have the words beyond that it is just wrong. I hope I help at least one person to not visit these tours!

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  19. I've seen some of the pictures too. It is heart breaking. I hate it.

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    1. Rosey, it was so hard to see and even worse to write about. I really have no words beyond that it is just wrong, and I truly hope nobody that sees reviews like this ever visit those places.

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  20. Elephants are such beautiful animals. In Thailand that sounds like such an experience. It is definitely sad to see these beautiful animals forced to do anything. I believe that all animals are part of nature and we shouldn't force them to do something they don't want to. I look up to you for declining to see the show. Great post and very inspirational to read about.

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    1. Michelle, it was really hard to see in person and write about afterwards. I'm just hoping that one day tourists will see this post and not go on the tours because of it.

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  21. This is so sad :( I hate that it can just keep happening with no one to jump in and help. Well I guess if enough people decide it's wrong and don't visit, they will eventually get the idea and either treat them better or shut it down.

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    1. Jamie, that is what I am hoping. Perhaps tourists will see this post and not visit for the elephants- it would be the best thing.

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  22. Oh my god, this just breaks my heart so bad!!! Before I went to Thailand, I so wanted to ride an elephant too, but then I read up on it and it all just made me SO sad at how horribly they treat the elephants. Instead, I went to an elephant sanctuary where they rescue injured and abused elephants from various trades. I'm so sorry that you had to see this! It's just so sad that this kind of abuse will never end, because there will always be people eager to make a buck, and tourists eager to get close to elephants.

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    1. Anna, like you I did my research but I guess in a way I just thought 'crazy animal rights activists', because I didn't see any pictures/etc. I'm hoping the pictures I have posted will show people that it really is wrong. And you are right that unfortunately a lot of tourists will go anyways- there were some people I talked to who were not bothered by the chains, which is just heart wrenching.

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  23. Wow. I couldn't even stomach to read this whole post. I have been hearing so much about this lately. I makes my heart so sad. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Yalanda, it was something that was so difficult to see in person, and that is why it took me so long to write about. It is a very difficult topic, but one I felt needed to be addressed!

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  24. I've heard shady things about the elephant rides in Thailand. How horrible for those poor elephants. Thank you for sharing your story. It's important.

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    1. Keisha, the elephant rides were definitely shady. This was a hard post to write, but I'm hoping someday a tourist in Thailand won't participate because of this post.

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