The relationship between humans and elephants goes back thousands of years. We have long admired them for their size and strength, intelligence, memory, agility, and social bonds. Hannibal famously crossed over the Alps with an army and elephants to fight the Romans. To millions of Buddhists, the elephant symbolizes peace and strength of mind. In Hindu culture, the elephant-headed Lord Ganesh removes obstacles and enables success.
In the past century, humans bred elephants for work and entertainment. In Asia, elephants were used for tree logging and other heavy labor. In west Europe and the USA, elephants were trained to perform in the traveling circus. They have also been used in films and advertising campaigns. We still visit them in zoos around the world.
But today elephants are quickly disappearing due to habitat loss and illegal poaching. As we have caused their slaughter and exploitation, we have the responsibility to save and protect them.
Attitudes are changing. The famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus no longer includes elephants in their shows. Some activists are calling for the release of all elephants in captivity – particularly elephants in Asian countries like India and Thailand - who are put to work daily for the pleasure of tourists.
The time has arrived to put an end to such practices. Yet solutions are not as simple as one may think.
Mahouts lose their livelihoods when logging ends. With no other skills, they turn to the growing tourist industry. If there is a ban on elephant riding, these men will once again be unemployed. Plus thousands of elephants will need to find sanctuary and care for the rest of their lives as they cannot survive in the wild. These are poor countries. Change seems unlikely anytime soon as long as foreign tourists are willing to pay for this “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
What are your thoughts and suggestions?
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