Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Elephants In The City - A Bad Idea

A forest creature, looking out of place on the streets of Bangkok

My first thought when seeing an elephant on the streets of Bangkok was "oh, how delightful!" - but as rational thoughts took over it was clear that the only chang that belonged in the Big Mango was the brand of beer served nearly everywhere (I've never tried it, but I'm told it's an acceptable brew).

Chang (elephants) are in a completely different category than dogs or cats, and the idea of such a strong - albeit generally gentle and passive - animal being herded around on city sidewalks and streets just isn't right.  I'd preface that last bit by adding "in my opinion," but it's the overall opinion, for a variety of reasons.

There are risks and dangers to having a wild animal such as this in a restricted area by virtue of their size and lack of agility alone; and add to that the unpredictability of trucks, autos, motor scooters, carts and bicycles and the possibility of startling or scaring a mammal that large and you can understand my point.  

The weight of an Asian elephant can be in the range of 6,600 - 11,000 pounds, or 3,000 - 5,000 kilograms, and while I'm merely a tiny fraction of that I have my own challenges negotiating my way around traffic in Thailand; those of you who have tried to navigate an intersection there know what I mean.  The joke I'd heard went something like this: Q: What do you call a person who gets across the intersection without being hurt or killed? A: The winner!

If you've done much research on tourist sites you may well have already heard this, but I'm repeating it as a public service for our large grey hairy friends in Thailand - and I don't mean the old farang along the beaches there - and the advice is this: don't encourage the mahouts (handlers) who try to get you to buy small bundles of bananas or sugar cane to feed the elephants when you see them on the street.  They'll also want a "donation" to take a photo with the animals, and I hope you'll resist that, too.

Granted, animals can adjust to their surroundings to a certain extent, but for an elephant who has been used to living in the jungle or forest the experience of being in such a noisy, polluted place must be much more than stressful. Their padded feet aren't designed to be walking on unforgiving cement and asphalt, either, and they're prone to foot injury.

The age-old practice of elephants being used as beasts of burden for logging and other heavy work is nowhere near as prevalent as it once was throughout the kingdom, but many of those animals are now in dozens of encampments throughout the kingdom where you can visit them, see them do demonstrations and even ride on them.  I'll agree that keeping them in a resort atmosphere leaves potential for abuse, but the idea here today is about chang in the city, so save your time: I agree it would be better if they were able to live freely in the wild.

We'll talk more about trained elephants another day. Here are two of the three city photos I have of these magnificent beasts. This last one was taken while I was sitting at a table next to the window and looked up to see a trunk tapping the glass with a thud.


krobbie said...

I have to say I am much the same as you Bao-bao when I see a man with a young elephant charging for photos in Silom.

For a start I believe it is now against the law to do this but it doesn't seem to stop them. Each high season there is always one who I see on upper Silom Road.

I feel very sorry for the bests and have a love of them but not to the point of seeing them on the street.

The place to see these extraordinary animals is is at the sanctuaries that are dotted around Thailand.

I went to one in Chiang Mai and had a few hours trekking. I am not even sure if that is a good idea. I prefer it when animals are just left to be marveled at.

I do understand that the trekking is done to create income. These big boys (and girls) chomp through quite an astounding amount of grub during the course of a day.

Cheers Bao-Bao,

christian said...

I never saw an elephant in Bangkok on the streets (only in the zoo, which is fine), and I hope it stays that way.

But I once saw Thais with cute monkeys and leguans in Pattaya, however I refrained from informing the tourist who were having their photo taken with the animals that these animals are probaly taken from nature and drugged and not kept appropriate to the species (which as far as I am informed applies partialle to the elephants in Bangkok as well).