August 3, 2009By Andrea Frascione, staff writer
BANGKOK,THAILAND (RPRN) 8/3/2009 -Captive Animals (CAPS) is an activist organization exposing animal cruelty in captivity, specifically, traveling circuses the world over. Most recently, despite the latest improvements in regulations and bans on abusive behavior by circus trainers across the globe, they revealed shocking footage of an aging female elephant being savagely beaten by her employer, allegedly an Italian circus touring Greece. The average lifespan of an elephant being relatively comparable to that of a human’s, this 40-year old creature is past her prime in performing tricks to please audiences, much less her ruthless owners. CAPS says on its website“…circuses fail to provide some of the most basic welfare needs of wild animals, such as space and social groups,” and, “…scientific literature and other data (are) scarce, even to the extent that the origin of most animals in circuses and precise numbers kept are unknown.”
In similar news, the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey who for decades as advertised as the ‘greatest show on Earth’ has been recorded as abusing its elephants. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) went undercover during a Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey tour to capture secret footage behind the scenes. (See video)
“The abuse extended from Birmingham, Alabama to Providence, Rhode Island. Ringling’s venues changed, but the beatings did not,” reported the London Times.
Born Free USA recently proposed a new Bill to be added to the Massachusetts legislature making it illegal for circus trainers to treat their animals in an inhumane manner. It further stipulates that this is to include banning the use of cruel training devices such as ‘bullhooks’ and chains. A bullhook is a long, heavy stick with a sharp, pointy hook at the end meant to pierce the sensitive end of an elephant’s trunk, in order to effectively ‘drag’ it in the direction its trainer chooses. The stick part is evidently used for clubbing.
In stark comparison to circus captivity, conspicuously enough, Thai ‘muhouts’ claim their adoration and worship of this beloved animal. The average monthly salary of a citizen of Thailand being no more than $80, it costs muhouts around 350,000 Baht (or roughly $10,000) to purchase an elephant, not to mention the money required for its feed and care. This initial great investment can rake in triple an average income in Bangkok, making roaming the city streets elephant-back among cars and passers-by a lucrative opportunity.
Due to the country’s rapid deforestation, only 20% of Thailand’s original forests remain, down from 60% in the mid-twentieth century. At one time, when Thailand was called Siam, and elephants were used - as horses were used in other places in the world - to fight in the war against neighboring Burma, there were almost half a million wild elephants roaming its forests. Later, they were the loggers’ choice beast of burden, to haul felled teak trees, once a prevalent commodity of this Asian country. In 1990, Thailand finally banned logging, but with much of its natural habitat destroyed, elephants no longer had a home.
Still depicted today in Buddhist temples and art, the elephant is thought to represent strength and victory. Tragically, we have forever reversed the fate of this wonderful creature, now weak and lost among the ruins of a place so ravaged, a culture so devastated by its own greed and ignorance.
Muhout training facilities can be found in every corner of Thailand, open to all visitors wishing to get a better picture of just how well some elephants are cared for in captivity. One such facility is the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, which provides VIP courses to locals and tourists alike, including hands-on experience with riding and bathing.
The one drawback to all this extensive training is that some of the elephants wind up in the city, where they trudge the polluted tourist-filled streets of Bangkok, making money for their owners, while earning their keep. Fortunately, the Elephant Conservation Center also houses a free hospital and mobile clinic, coming to the aid of ailing patients in town, as well as in the outskirts, who fall prey to infectious foot diseases and dehydration or malnutrition due to a lack of sufficient natural resources in the urban jungle. A fairly recent phenomenon in Thailand is the return of elephants to the forest, accompanied by muhouts and their families, in search of a better life for their lifelong pet. In many cases, mahout and elephant are about the same age and the sentiment is stronger to take good care of their friend.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is a 2,700acre non-profit development, supported by the US Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. This vast and unique preserve is dedicated to the care of old and sick elephants, retired from the circus business. Unlike any other elephant captivity on the planet, it boasts state-of-the-art heated barns, giant perimeter fences and in recent expansion to the facility, a 25acre lake in the middle of a 700acre parcel of land.
This sanctuary is being dubbed a prototype for the future of “enlightened captive elephant management”. Here, its inhabitants are “encouraged to live like elephants”. What a novel idea!
Andrea Frascione covers the business, eco-entrepreneur and lifestyle beat for RushPRnews. You may write her for story ideas and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
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