Today, their numbers have declined to 3,500–5,000 due to a multitude of threats ranging from the desire for ivory to the reduction of forest space. The notion of extinction is no longer just a concern; it is the new reality.
Thailand’s tradition of using elephants in industry ended in 1989 following the large floods that, in part, were an outcome of irresponsible logging. The government’s cancellation of logging concessions put thousands of elephants, and the mahouts who owned them, out of work. The mahouts had few options to support their families or feed their elephants, which consume approximately 200kg of food a day. Many mahouts fled to cities to beg, while others turned to illegal logging or resorted to tourism. The tourist industry is the newest contributor to the demise of the Asian elephant. Elephant camps cater to tourists and use elephants irresponsibly, forcing them to provide rides in adverse weather or to perform gymnastic displays for “entertainment.”
City life is debilitating for elephants. They are used to beg from tourists and are subjected to cruelty of untold severity. Standards of health are low, drugging is common, the hours of work are long, diet is poor, and road accidents are frequent.
Calves are often prematurely separated from their mothers. Their life expectancy is reduced to as little as five years due to stress, malnutrition, and other threats. Baby elephants are one of the newest and most popular attractions for tourism and to meet the demand, forced breeding under harsh conditions often occurs.
Illegal logging bodes just as poorly for elephants. Animals are pumped with amphetamines to increase work time and suppress appetites. Elephants are often beaten and starved to demand compliancy. Some illegal logging is carried out along the Thai-Burma border where there is a long history of martial conflict. Consequently, live landmines still exist and countless cases of elephant maimings and deaths are reported.
Efforts by non-governmental and governmental organizations to protect domestic elephants are fragmented and inconsistent, at best. Outdated legislation equates rights of the domestic elephant with that of cattle. The Asian elephant is an endangered species and BLES is working against time to save them. We welcome other elephant organizations to join us in our fight. Together, as a global community, we have the power to make a difference.