Cruelty-Free Elephant Excursion for CIS Abroad
Please sign this petition if you believe that CIS Abroad should support an elephant sanctuary where the elephants are happy, free to roam, and "retired" from the tourism industry, rather than still very much a part of it. You may also sign this petition if you believe that CIS participants should be given a choice of a riding experience, and a non-riding experience.
CIS Abroad, a study abroad program, offers various cultural excursions within the countries of the various educational programs. For the program in Thailand, a day riding elephants at the Baanchang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai is included in the program fees.
Baanchang Elephant Park's attempt at transparency did not hide the signs of abuse and mistreatment. While visiting the park I was able to witness the following forms of mistreatment:
-The elephants are kept on very short chains any time they are not being ridden and controlled by a mahout (elephant trainer/owner). This means the elephant has no free will and spends most of its time waiting to be taken off a short and isolating chain.
-On the elephant riding portion of the tour, I witnessed an entire concrete open-air warehouse of approx. 10 elephants on short chains swaying back and forth. A swaying elephant is an elephant in distress. Period.
- There was a younger elephant obviously swaying by itself while chained up. I asked the guide about this behavior and he said it was “personality”. He also mentioned that the elephant had not been through training yet, so it could not be allowed off the chain. When I asked about the training process, the question was danced around and ultimately avoided. This baby elephant was undeniably showing signs of neglect, distress, and psychosis.
-Most obviously, an elephant cannot be ridden until it has been trained to do so.
The only training process currently being used involves "phajaan". Phajaan
is a horrible training practice that translates as “crushing the
spirit”. The baby elephant is separated from it’s mother, confined to a
very small cage, and beaten and abused until the elephant gives up the
will to live. Once this happens, the elephant fears both humans and the
bullhook presenting the opportunity to train them to do anything from
riding, to waving hello, to painting. The baby elephant can then be sold
to the tourism industry. Although the elephants have been rescued at
Baanchang elephant park, someone had to "crush their spirit".
-The continued presence of bullhooks keep the elephants in constant fear. I have reason to believe all of the elephants went through phajaan before being used for logging or tourism, as this is the only form of training I have heard of. Bullhooks are always used to beat and terrorize the baby elephants during phajaan, and as everyone knows, “an elephant never forgets”.
-One of the women on my tour said that the elephant she rode clearly didn’t want to give her a ride that day and had markings of bullhook abuse behind the ears and around the eyes.
-The “mahout training” part of the tour was a complete performance. As visitors “learning to train the elephants” we were encouraged to shout words ordering the elephant to do tasks for us. The elephants were commanded to repeatedly lay down, let a tourist on its’ neck, walk down to a tree, turn around and come back. The process was done for each visitor.
-The swimming portion of the program took place in a concrete area with water that was pumped in. Nothing about the elephant park simulated a natural environment.
-One mahout used the sharpest part of the bullhook to command his elephant to spray us with water using its trunk. The mahout kept hitting the elephant to make it perform the trick over and over again. The elephant then waved goodbye with his trunk- two more tricks.
This petition is to encourage CIS Abroad to read the writing on the wall and support an actual elephant sanctuary, not a riding camp. CIS Abroad has approximately 20-30 students participating in this current trimester in Thailand program. It costs 2,900 Baht (approx. $100 per adult for group pricing) to ride the elephants at the Baanchang Elephant Park. $3,000 per trimester is a lot of money to repeatedly put into a Thai company. Should it not go to one that has the elephants' best interest in mind? The whole reason we want to meet the elephants is because we love them, right?
CIS Abroad, an educational program itself, should offer education on the exploration of elephants in Thai tourism, and at the very least allow the participants to have a choice for a no-riding sanctuary option.
Again, please sign this petition if you believe that CIS Abroad should support an elephant sanctuary where the elephants are happy, free to roam, and "retired" from the tourism industry, rather than still very much a part of it. You many also sign this petition if you believe that CIS participants should be given a choice of a riding experience, and a non-riding experience.
If you would like another opinion to make a more informed decision, I strongly suggest you do some research of your own, and watch the documentary "An Elephant Never Forgets" on Vimeo. You may also visit my blog for a further review of my experiences and summary of research: https://ladybouley.wordpress.com