Elephant husbandry in Southeast Asia is a contentious topic, according to The Star. Asian elephants play a part in ceremonial and religious traditions, and mahout (caretaker) culture demands certain families own elephants.
Due to a decline in trade, elephants and their mahouts are now competing for fewer jobs, often for longer hours, and at lower pay. Since the large vegetarians are expensive to keep, mahouts are forced to find alternative employment.
A recent surge in ecotourism may be the best opportunity for the majority of Thailand’s 4,000 captive elephants and the communities whose livelihoods are dependent on them.
But concern over conditions (overworked, improperly carrying unsafe loads), and frequent reports of abuse and the illegal capture of young elephants from wild herds to supply the tourism or entertainment industries, is unsettling.
Boycotting elephant tourism isn’t a solution. Thai elephants can’t simply be released back into the wild. Besides a loss of habitat and fragmentation due to urban growth, there are also the dangers of ivory poaching and encounters with humans.
John Roberts, director of elephants at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort and founder of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, says education is the best way to aid species conservation.