Does the Animal Thrive?

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When you plan a trip, you research your destination before stepping on that plane, right?

Most of us do.

I’m not a huge planner when it comes to travel, but I do at least look up places in the area before I skip town. There might be an amazing waterfall or an intriguing piece of history I didn’t know about that I could have missed had I not gone on the internet and googled my destination.

Tripadvisor. Lonely Planet. Travel bogs galore. We have so many outlets right at our fingertips.

I’ve spent hours reading reviews and blog posts about all the different places I hope to one day visit. And getting the first hand views is a huge help when deciding where to go.


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Looking for outlets to nature and animals

Seeing a new landscape or viewing an animal that I’ve only been able to see on TV are the 2 main reasons I travel. They are the first keywords to be googled, and they are usually the deciding factor of where I am going to visit.

Almost anywhere is going to have an excursion to visit the neighboring national park or some sort of outlet to view the native wildlife. Every big city has a zoo, and they are usually packed. People want to see what is different and unknown to them.

I get it. I’m one of those people. I don’t have lions roaming in my backyard, and I’m fascinated to know what it’s like to live near them. I want to stare into the eye of a great white and hear the laugh of a hyena. I’m mesmerized by the animal kingdom and always on the look out for places where I can experience it first hand.

When I first started traveling, I didn’t really know what to look for.

I knew there were attractions out there that were harmful to the animals or surrounding environment, so I would search for the ones that really seemed to care for their animals, but looks can be deceiving.

Just because an establishment is well known and enjoyed by many doesn’t mean they treat their animals well. I think we have all heard about the movie Blackfish. Millions of people had no idea what went on behind the scenes at the theme park. People loved seeing the dolphins, seals, and killer whales doing tricks and interacting with their human trainers. They were having fun right? They seemed happy, right?

Until Blackfish hit theaters, people had been told lies and mislead for profit. It happens everywhere unfortunately. I’ve visited various attractions that I thought were good and later learned a much different story. I wish I hadn’t supported the organizations that exploit animals for their own greed, but I didn’t know at the time. People will go to great lengths to sugarcoat a story to gain customers.

I have learned a lot of lessons over the past few years. I can’t take back the places I have visited in the past, but I can grow as a traveler and look for the organizations committed to helping our wildlife rather than exploiting it. I’ve learned to ask more questions and educate myself about the animals and the situation they are in.

Does the animal thrive?

That’s a question I find myself asking a lot when deciding what to do during my next vacation.

There are plenty of attractions that you can tell right away are not for the animals best interest. Roadside zoos are a perfect example. The cages are entirely too small, most of the animals are sickly and malnourished, and the environment is beyond disgusting. It’s incredible that these people are not shut down!

Not all inhumane attractions are so noticeable though. That’s why you have to start asking yourself and others questions.

What type of environment is the animal living in?

What are the training techniques?

Is the animal performing a task that is harmful to itself?

Is what I am doing benefiting the animal?

I now ask these questions all the time. There were a few things on my bucket list that I have removed after researching it and learning that the activity was harmful to the animal. Our money speaks a lot for us. That’s why we have to educate ourselves and support the programs that are here to help, not harm.


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What type of environment is the animal living in?

The animals environment should be one of the top priorities when looking into an establishment. Looking at size and cleanliness alone is not enough.

Think about the animals natural environment. What is the climate like? Are they alone when they should be socialized with a group? Is the environment the closest representation possible to the animals natural habitat?

9 times out of 10, the answers are pretty grim.

Animals naturally live in different climates and habitats for a reason, and when they are taken out of that, they have a hard time adjusting. A polar bear shouldn’t be living in warmer climates and elephants shouldn’t be kept in subzero degree weather. Like I said, they naturally don’t live in those climates for a reason.

Zoos have been under a lot of pressure lately for their poor living standards for their animals. And I’m not talking about roadside zoos. Big zoos. The ones everyone hears about and wants to visit. The ones with thousands of animals from all over the world. Those zoos.

They are still under fire for poor treatment of their animals. This fight has been going on for decades! The enclosures might look legit, and the animals might seem fine, but there is a dark world behind those walls.

They are forced to live in an enclosed space (more than likely too small for them) for the rest of their lives. Animals need to roam. Some cover thousands of miles each year. Now imagine that being taken away from you and being placed in a space that is just a few hundred square feet.

They are taken away from their social groups. There are a few stories out right now about elephants that are being held captive by themselves. They are depressed and lonely. Elephants need their herds. Just like the killer whales and dolphins in captivity, they need their pods. Their quality of life drops tremendously when they are forced to be isolated.

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What are the training techniques? 

I don’t know why I was so naive when it came to training techniques. I guess it just looked like the animal was enjoying performing in the circus or carrying people around on it’s back. Again they seemed happy…..right?

Until I found Elephant Nature Park, I didn’t know much about different training techniques for animals. I knew the basics. And I put my faith in people just assuming they were treating their animal employees well. Boy was I wrong!

Just like zoos, the circus has been getting more and more heat about their treatment of animals. Elephants have rampaged, tigers and lions have mauled their trainers. All to end in certain death because of course they are now a liability to the company.

Why do they do it? They are said to be so well trained, so why do they still act out?

The answer is simple…..They are  wild animals!

They are not meant to be kept in cages and made to perform dances. They have to be broken down and trained.

So how do they train them?

We never get to see the training when visiting most attractions. I honestly think that the main reason we don’t get tot see this is because they know people wouldn’t visit their attraction if they saw first hand what the animals were going through.

I watched an elephant paint while visiting the zoo as a child and thought it was amazing. That elephant was acting like a human! I saw plenty of elephant paintings being sold in Thailand. Some even claiming to go towards the conservation of the animal.

What I didn’t see until working at Elephant Nature Park, is how the elephant is trained to paint. They usually start them young. The calves are beaten and cut with a bull hook. The abuse continues the entire training session until they are able to paint a picture on command. The bull hook is then carried as reassurance that the elephant will not disobey in the future.

That video was incredibly hard to watch. I can still hear the screams of that baby elephants and see the bloody cuts across his forehead from the bull hook.

Since then I have to ask “What are the training techniques?”

A big tell is the markings on the animal. Cuts and scars don’t just appear out of the blue. Somebody put them there.


Is the animal performing a task that is harmful to itself?

Humans have been using animals as equipment for thousands of years. Once we learned they would help speed up productivity and make us money, animals have been at our mercy ever since.

But is it harmful to them?

We have to stop viewing animals as our possessions and objects to be used. Some of our practices can be very harmful to them, and sometimes it’s hard to see how it is hurting them on the surface.

An elephant is so big, and humans are so small, so how could it be harmful to ride them?

I didn’t like the idea of riding an elephant when I went to Thailand in the first place. Something about it didn’t sit right in my stomach, so I made the conscious decision not to do it. After visiting ENP, I am so happy I made that choice.

The training that goes into making an elephant a trekking mule is just as bad as the training to teach and elephant to paint. They are put in what is called a “crush” and held for days. The enclosure is called a “crush” because it is where humans crush the will of the elephant until it becomes their captive slave. While in the “crush” the elephants feet are shackled together and they are cut and prodded with bull hooks and bamboo sticks with nails sticking out. The elephant must be scared of it’s human master so it will obey his every command.

After the training, the elephant is topped with a harness that is then chained around it’s abdomen. Sometimes these chains are placed near the females uterus. The chains then put pressure on this sensitive area causing reproductive problems in the future.

ENP had a few elephants with spinal injures caused by riding. We may seem small compared to an elephant, but imagine carrying a heavy backpack around day in and day out. And don’t forget the elephants are probably exhausted and underfed as well. Doesn’t seem so great does it?

I strongly recommend watching this video about elephant training in Thailand. It shows exactly what happens to them from the moment they are taken from the wild and forced into a life of slavery. Some of the images are very disturbing, but they need to be seen. The more we know, the more we can stand up against animal abuse.



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Is what I’m doing benefiting the animal?

This is the question that has challenged me the most.

There are organizations out there who claim to be helping when really they are just looking for free labor to turn more of a profit. It’s sad to think that there are people in this world who prey on the good intentions of other, but that’s reality.

A few places I have come across in the past looked great upfront. Then I started reading more reviews, and researching a little more and found out a completely different story. I’ve even questioned some of the organizations I’ve worked at while I was there. I felt like I was helping exploit the animal more than benefit it.

I think it is a very important subject to talk about when visiting an organization and working with the animals. Just because it is called a sanctuary or proclaims to focus on conservation, doesn’t mean it’s in the best interest of the animal.

So how do you know which organizations are good?

Talk with others online. Ask questions. Read blogs about people traveling to specific sanctuaries, reserves, etc. Educate yourself on not only the place you wish to visit but on the animal as well.

The more we know before we travel, the better prepared we are to make positive choices. Our money speaks a lot about what is important to us. There wouldn’t be elephant riding and dolphin shows if people stopped paying for them.

We can make a huge impact on animal exploitation by making different choices in our travels. Choose what is best for the animal kingdom. They are not here for us to abuse. They are here for us to respect and live in harmony with.  There is a way to live peacefully with the animal kingdom. We just have to start looking at life in a different way.

Have you experienced animal exploitation during your travels? Please share your story in the comments below. The more people know about it, the better equipped they are to avoid animal exploitation.


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