My recent trip to Phuket included a visit to FantaSea, a huge theme park in Kamala and definitely a tourist attraction. Yes I was aware about the heated discussion regarding the use of elephants in their performances before I went on the trip. But because my trip consist of people with different views (which is something I do respect), I thought why not go see it for myself and understand more about the issue.
I’ve been following articles about the exploitation of elephants in Southeast asian countries, mainly Thailand and the recent news about elephants dying because of exhaustion have angered many people globally. There were petitions to make TripAdvisor stop promoting animal-related tourism activities and lots of NGOs voiced out their concerns about these animals. There were several things I realized during my visit to FantaSea.
First, I understand now why it is not easy for people to make a change in the situation although many petitions have been created. Why? The FantaSea attract over 4 000 visitors a day and the elephant and culture night performance is the highlight of the theme park. If you’ve been to Phuket, you would know that the area is not well developed. The tsunami tragedy a few years back has done quite a damage and the people there are still trying to cope with the sudden loss of income and accumulated expenses from the tragedy. The theme park create job opportunities for the locals, probably one of the biggest recruiter in that area. Because people depend on this theme park and the income it brings to Phuket, it won’t be easy for the authorities to take action unless the fault is clearly visible along with evidence of torture and exploitation.
Second, during the performance I realized that the elephants were very well trained they listened to every instructions without a problem. It was weird in a way for me to watch because the animal doesn’t behave in its natural state anymore like elephants in the wild. But later on it striked me that Thailand and elephants have a long relationship. The thai people worship elephants, it’s one of the reasons why it’s their national animal. It has been a tradition for over centuries in Thailand to use elephants as mode of transportation. Back in those days, the king will mount on an elephant for transportation or even during war. Their relationship with the elephants go way back that they even have a Thai legend saying that a marriage is like an elephant – the husband is the front legs that choose the direction, the wife the back legs, providing the power! We feel it is morally wrong to use the animals as form of entertainment for tourist attraction but from their point of view, they see nothing wrong with training elephants as they have done it for more than a hundred years.
The visit showed me a bigger picture for both side of arguments. While the Thai believe that this is a tradition that must be uphold, others may not think the same due to culture and interest differences. Some of us focus very much on animals welfare but we do have to understand a nation’s culture as well. When I first spoke about this issue, a friend of mine said what about horse training? We use horses for transportation, we do horse racing and make money out of it and there are lots of horses dead because of it. What about using cows in paddy field? Or bull race ? Those are all influenced by culture and tradition as well.
The crucial difference here is that, the elephants are facing extinction. Perhaps because the world is getting a bit too cramped and small for them to live in that they have to blend with the humans and do their biddings. But what truly matters here is that, while I can respect the culture, I do believe an emphasize on animal cruelty should be said not just for elephants but all animals. Since the Thai have long relationship with the elephants, through the training the elephants should be well taken care and properly fed. The animal’s welfare is just as important and illegal trade should not be allowed since they hold high respect for their elephants. It is important to understand both the culture and also to ensure that the animals are not being exploitated for their body parts, especially one that involves animal killing.
I am indeed quite against using the animals to do our bidding but it is a culture that I also respect and hence I do understand their perspective. But illegal trade and exploitation of animals together with neglected animal welfare is something I’m strongly against.
Now, if I were to create a petition I wouldn’t say stop or ban animals related activities because that is part of a country’s culture. Without it they won’t be unique anymore, no identity. I would rather go for protect animal welfare and tighten the law on taking good care of the animals they keep. Any form of abuse should be reported and charged for neglect in responsibilities. The animal related business should contribute to animal conservation on regular basis and help fight against illegal trade.
The visit indeed gave me a better understanding on the issue. Perhaps I did understand better or perhaps not but this is my view on the matter.