What Years of Tourism Does to an Elephant | Ecology

Elephants may be known for their size and strength, but these mighty animals were not made to entertain tourists, let alone carry them on their backs. A Thai rescue group shows the painful consequences of these tours with the help of a tragically compelling photograph. This is Bai Lin, 71 years old. After 25 years of working in the tourism industry, his spine completely disintegrated, where he was forced to carry six tourists on his back at a time.

He shared the photo Wildlife Friends Foundation in Thailand (WFFT). The animal structure has been a refuge for old Bai Lin for many years. The back of the animal is completely collapsed. “Elephants’ backs usually extend upwards,” WFFT’s Tom Taylor told CNN. “Continuous pressure on the spine of tourists can lead to permanent physical damage, as seen in Bai Lin’s back.” Elephants also show scars from old pressure points.

Illustrative image. Tourists ride an elephant past an ancient temple in Ayutthaya, Thailand. © AFP

A popular tourist activity

Elephant riding is a popular tourist activity in Southeast Asian countries. But for animal rights organizations, this is often a form of animal cruelty because the elephants are not ridden. Apart from tourism, elephants are also used for other activities like logging and long treks. According to WFFT, many elephants die of exhaustion and malnutrition. “They literally work themselves to death.”

Comparison image shared by WFFT.  On the left, Bi Lin with a sloping back, on the right, the elephant Thung Ngern with a normal, plump back.
Comparison image shared by WFFT. On the left, Bi Lin with a sloping back, on the right, the elephant Thung Ngern with a normal, plump back. © Friends of Wildlife Foundation in Thailand

“Slowly, Still Suffering”

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After years of hard work, Bai Lin the elephant now has a happy life. “Pie Lin came to us in 2007 after working for many years in the Thai tourism industry,” Edwin Weick, director and founder of WFFT, told CNN. “Her previous owner gave her up because he felt she was too slow and still in pain. She couldn’t work properly anymore.

Sensitivity

The animal rights group shared her story today to raise awareness of elephant abuse and remind people to never ride these spectacular animals, especially now that tourists are returning to Thailand and other destinations after the pandemic. “It is important to understand that elephants are not like horses, they are not bred to be ridden. They are not domesticated animals. They are caught from the wild and kept in poor conditions,” he explains.

Boon sui, ein andere gerette oliphant van WFFT die ok ein pescadicte rug heft na tenantallen jaren van inspanent werk.
Boon sui, ein andere gerette oliphant van WFFT die ok ein pescadicte rug heft na tenantallen jaren van inspanent werk. © Friends of Wildlife Foundation in Thailand

Since then, 24 more rescued elephants have joined the WFFT reserve near Hua Hin, a coastal town about 2.5 hours’ drive from Bangkok.

A nice old lady

“She’s bigger now than when she came to us,” says Weick. “The degeneration of her spine is something she has to live with, but thankfully she’s fine.” He describes the elephant as an introverted “old woman” who wants to have her own space. “She prefers to be alone than with other elephants, but appreciates attention from people.” She sometimes dares to be a little grumpy when it comes to food. But above all, she is a very sweet and very kind elephant.

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