Shocking News about Animal abuse

Here’s why petting lions for conservation in SA is a scam

Raised in cages to be hunted as trophies like Cecil, and so used to humans that they think their killers are bringing them food – the haunting fate of South Africa’s ‘canned’ lions is exposed

  • Fresh outcry expected over fate of greatest of Africa’s big cats as new movie is released about ‘canned hunting’
  • Blood Lions will be screened next month on PBS and shows how hundreds of lions are raised to be shot as trophies
  • They spend their lives in cages then taste just a few days of ‘freedom’ inside reserves enclosed by electric fences 
  • The animals are so used to humans that when they hear vehicles and pick up the hunters’ scent they think they are going to be fed
  • Hunting a lion costs up to $30,000 and an estimated 500 Americans are among the trophy hunters who come to South Africa for the ‘canned hunt’

A new international outcry at the treatment of Africa’s lions is about to hit just weeks after the furor over the killing of Cecil by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer.

A movie will air next month that claims to blow the lid off big game hunting in South Africa, saying that 99 percent of the lions bagged in the country are hand-reared and specially bred for the bullet.

The movie, Blood Lions, has already been shown in South Africa, and is expected to bring new outrage down on the heads of wealthy Americans who travel to the Dark Continent with one thing in mind — bringing back a lion’s head so they can mount it on their wall and boast how they killed it in the wild.

 ‘There are roughly 1,000 lions killed by hunters in South Africa every year,’ Blood Lions executive director Andrew Venter told Daily Mail Online in an exclusive interview. ‘Of those, around 10 are genuinely wild.’


Hunted: This white lion is one of the hundreds of the 'apex animals' bred simply to be hunted on reserves in South Africa

Hunted: This white lion is one of the hundreds of the ‘apex animals’ bred simply to be hunted on reserves in South Africa

Farmed: The 'canned hunting' industry hand raises the lions in cages. They become so used to humans that they associate the scent with mealtime

Farmed: The ‘canned hunting’ industry hand raises the lions in cages. They become so used to humans that they associate the scent with mealtime

Prized: A male lion is more valued as a trophy because of its mane. 'Canned' lions do not have the scratch marks that wild ones do from the fights for territory and superiority in the pride which are part of their lives

Prized: A male lion is more valued as a trophy because of its mane. ‘Canned’ lions do not have the scratch marks that wild ones do from the fights for territory and superiority in the pride which are part of their lives

Catalog: How 'canned lions' are listed for selection as prey in a picture guidebook 

Catalog: How ‘canned lions’ are listed for selection as prey in a picture guidebook

A Benkoe Kill: The 'canned' lions are raised for this fate, with 1,000 killed every year. They are released for a minimum of four days to fulfill requirements which make them classed as 'wild' - then hunted. 

A Benkoe Kill: The ‘canned’ lions are raised for this fate, with 1,000 killed every year. They are released for a minimum of four days to fulfill requirements which make them classed as ‘wild’ – then hunted.

The movie, to be broadcast on PBS next month, follows American hunter Rick Swazey to Benkoe, a hunting lodge near Vryburg in South Africa’s North West Province.

There he is guaranteed that for a payment of $5,400 he will get to shoot a lioness he has picked out of an online catalog of potential targets.

‘We were offered 14 lions with the images and prices attached,’ documentary maker Ian Michler told Daily Mail Online.

Moviemakers claim that the lioness was raised by hand in the booming so-called ‘canned hunting’ trade, although the lodge’s owner strenuously denied that to Daily Mail Online.

‘Benkoe Safaris do not engage in any canned lion hunting activities,’ owner Ben Duminy said. ‘Our clients do not shoot tame lions in small enclosures as the Blood Lions video tries to portray.

‘We are proud to be accredited by the South African Predators Association as a world class lion hunting destination, which means our clients hunt wild and dangerous lions on a fair chase and walk-and-stalk basis.

‘On several occasions a hunt ended with near catastrophic results for the hunter as a result of the viciousness and aggression of the quarry,’ Duminy added.

Yet he said he would not try to sue the moviemakers. ‘Legal action is not an appropriate strategy to combat the lies and propaganda of the animal rights lobby,’ said Duminy. He said hunters in South Africa have their own program ‘aimed at putting the true facts about the captive breeding industry across to people and institutions that really matter.’

Emotional trailer for Blood Lions documentary – click here

Segregated: These lions are kept in cages apart from each other to avoid them fighting. Their heads are more valued if they are unmarked by scratches from fighting each other 

Segregated: These lions are kept in cages apart from each other to avoid them fighting. Their heads are more valued if they are unmarked by scratches from fighting each other

Prize: A proud hunter poses with the lioness he has killed and the team who helped him

Prize: A proud hunter poses with the lioness he has killed and the team who helped him

End result: A trophy at a hunting exhibition in South Africa shows how the canned lions will end up

End result: A trophy at a hunting exhibition in South Africa shows how the canned lions will end up

Advertising: Filmmakers recorded this example of promotional material for lion hunting, offering 'seven days, four trophies'

Advertising: Filmmakers recorded this example of promotional material for lion hunting, offering ‘seven days, four trophies’

'We were offered 14 lions with the images and prices attached,' documentary maker Ian Michler told Daily Mail Online.

‘We were offered 14 lions with the images and prices attached,’ documentary maker Ian Michler told Daily Mail Online.

Venter and Michler believe their movie can have the same effect on the canned lion trade in South Africa that the 2013 documentary Blackfish had on SeaWorld and other marine parks in the United States. That movie exposed the way that orcas were kept in captivity. Since it came out SeaWorld shares have dropped by about half, CEO Jim Atchison was forced out and attendance has fallen off dramatically.

‘Our world is changing and whether it is orcas in ponds or lions in cages, these are exploitative activities that progressive societies no longer sanction,’ Michler told Daily Mail Online.

Venter, Michler and Swazey are all convinced that Benkoe’s hunts are fake. ‘The fact the lion hunting is inside an electrified fenced enclosure speaks volume,’ Swazey, an aircraft dispatcher who lived in Hawaii at the time the movie was made, told Daily Mail Online.

But the hunting industry in South Africa is trying to promote the term ‘captive hunting’ to get away from the negative connotations of ‘canned hunting.’

‘Before coming to South Africa, I found that there is a ‘Put and Take Law’ in the province where Mr. Duminy has his hunting camp,’ added Swazey.

‘This law requires that the animal to be hunted must be released into the hunting enclosure for a minimum of four days before being shot.’

That requirement is to give time to allow any drugs that may have been used to calm the beast to transport it to the hunting ground to wear off.

‘I challenge anyone to tell me how a four-day release constitutes a wild lion hunt,’ said Swazey.

‘My questions to Mr. Duminy are: ‘What exactly is the difference between captive and canned hunting? Why is there a need to blur the line between the two? Why is captive hunting acceptable and canned hunting not?’

‘The end result is the same: a lion is raised in captivity for only one purpose — to be shot.’

African lion hunting has been under intense scrutiny since Walter Palmer shot and killed Cecil the black-maned lion with a high-power crossbow in Zimbabwe last month. Cecil was not part of a canned hunt — which are virtually unknown outside South Africa.

Instead Cecil was allegedly lured from safety of the Hwange National Park by two guides trailing meat behind a vehicle. Palmer only injured the animal which suffered in intense agony for 40 hours before being tracked and finished off.

The hunting team then hacked off Cecil’s head so Palmer could take it back to his home. But Zimbabwean authorities confiscated it leaving Palmer with nothing to show for the $55,000 he spent for the kill.

Caged: This lion's enclosure is a tiny fraction of the size of its footprint in the wild, where it would be able to roam freely over the grassland. It will taste brief freedom when it is set free to be hunted

Caged: This lion’s enclosure is a tiny fraction of the size of its footprint in the wild, where it would be able to roam freely over the grassland. It will taste brief freedom when it is set free to be hunted

Raised behind bars: A lion cub looks up from behind the wire fence preventing it from roaming free

Raised behind bars: A lion cub looks up from behind the wire fence preventing it from roaming free

Idle: The captive lions have little to do but lie in the sunshine as they wait their inevitable fate

Idle: The captive lions have little to do but lie in the sunshine as they wait their inevitable fate

Swazey’s fee was less than one-tenth of the size paid by Palmer because lionesses are not considered such good trophies as they don’t have the iconic full mane that male lions have.

One of the advantages hunters find in shooting hand-reared animals rather than genuinely wild ones is that they are unlikely to have been scratched up in fights that occur naturally in the wild, and therefore the head they get to show off will be in better condition, explained Venter.

Michler estimates there are around 200 facilities in South Africa breeding predators, mainly lions. He says there are between 6,000 and 8,000 animals currently in these facilities.

As well as providing relatively tame animals as shooting targets, these places also make money from tourists who are allowed to pet the cubs and walk with the carnivores and they also provide for a growing Far Eastern market in lion bones, which supposedly have medicinal properties, and have largely taken the place of tiger bones in China, due to restrictions on importing tiger parts.

‘Nearly all justify what they do by claiming conservation, educational or lion awareness arguments,’ said Michler, a former Cape Town stockbroker who has worked in conservation for the past 25 years.

‘And then, of course, they point to the economic contributions such as job creation.’

But, he said, his documentary exposes those arguments. ‘The film clearly shows how lions, an apex predator that in the natural world requires ample space, are being subjected to intensive agricultural breeding practices in confined areas.

‘It also shows how the breeders and farmers mix species such as lions and tiger and you also get to see and understand the considerable welfare concerns.’

He said Swazey came on board after watching a promo clip the movie makers had circulated. ‘Rick is a genuine American hunter,’ he said. ‘The practices of canned hunting offended every hunting sensibility he knew and so he volunteered to be part of the project.

Michler estimates that around 1,000 hunters travel every year to South Africa to bag lions. Of those, roughly half are American.

Swazey remains a committed deer and white-winged dove hunter in the United States. ‘The hunting I do is to put food on the table,’ he told Daily Mail Online.

Notorious: Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer's killing of Cecil created revulsion around the world. He hunted the treasured 13-year-old first with a crossbow, wounding him, then shot him dead 40 hours later

Notorious: Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer’s killing of Cecil created revulsion around the world. He hunted the treasured 13-year-old first with a crossbow, wounding him, then shot him dead 40 hours later

Worldwide impact: Cecil's death was followed by calls for action against trophy hunting

Worldwide impact: Cecil’s death was followed by calls for action against trophy hunting

Impact: Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer's Florida vacation home was vandalized and he remains in hiding after it was disclosed that he killed Cecil

Impact: Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer’s Florida vacation home was vandalized and he remains in hiding after it was disclosed that he killed Cecil

Reviled: Walter Palmer has been in hiding ever since it was revealed he had killed Cecil

Reviled: Walter Palmer has been in hiding ever since it was revealed he had killed Cecil

But he agreed to take part in the movie because he found himself repulsed by the idea of killing a captive animal solely for its trophy value.

‘What bothers me most about “hunting” a canned animal is that the animals are in an enclosure, often baited to present a shot to the shooter and sometimes shot from a vehicle.’

Making it worse, he said, the lions are used to ‘the sight, sound and scent’ of humans.

‘When a vehicle approaches a lion that was bottle-fed and raised in captivity, that sound usually means it is mealtime.’

Swazey and his team had never intended to kill the lioness and were still working out a way to make their exit while leaving the animal alive when Duminy discovered they were making a movie. Although many hunters take teams along to film their exploits, both sides agree that Swazey’s ruse was discovered because his crew appeared too professional.

Instead of capturing a lion killed on camera, the filmmakers caught Duminy threatening to kill Swazey after he is uncovered. Swazey insists the game lodge owner meant what he said, and he believed his life was in genuine danger.

‘How would you feel if someone twice your size threatened to kill you?’ he asked.

‘I trusted Mr. Duminy about as far as I could throw him. I think he had every intention of causing us serious harm if we had not left when we did.’

As for the fate of the animal that Swazey was supposed to kill, it is still unclear. ‘After we left the farm, we tried to arrange for the lioness to be moved to a sanctuary,’ said Michler.

‘But negotiations between Benkoe and ourselves broke down. We got a partial refund and have no idea what happened to the lioness.’

Read more:

Exotic pets to not make Excellent Pets!!

Every now and then you have to ask yourself this question: “Am I doing this for attention?” if it is not part of a marketing extravaganza then the answer should always be “No”. I spend the last few days at home thanks to a not so welcome friend Mr Influ Enza. Being at home gave me the perfect opportunity to spend some much needed time on Social Media. I finally got up to date with Instagram, Twiiter, Tumbler and even made a turn by FlikR. That all said and done I decided to take a leisure stroll through Facebook.
This is where a fun flu filled day turned into a nightmare! I found out that an old school buddy of mine has strategically blocked me from being able to view all her personal photos taken of her PET CAPUCHIN!! She accidently loaded one and did not block it in time. I asked her straight out whom the Capuchin belong to and the can of worms spilled out right there. When I asked why she blocked me her answer was even more ghastly that I could have thought:
“Because I knew having a pet monkey is very wrong but I do not care I want him and I will keep him”
I burst into tears realizing that it’s not that we are not getting the message out there of the horrors of keeping a wild animal as a pet, but that some people really just do not care. She went on to tell me how much attention she gets when she takes him out and how much she enjoys that. I guess being left at the alter….twice….left her really needing some attention. I asked if she thought she would also get attention if she adopted a kitten or puppy from the local shelter. She explained that “domestic” animals are “boring”….my dear, have you met my adopted cat?
I talked to her a bit more about the Capuchin’s future and asked her, knowing that so many of them turn on their owners what she will do not IF but WHEN that happens to her and she calmed explained that “I will donate him to Monkeyland in Plett” I chocked a bit and reminded her that I work for Monkeyland and that we have reached our capacity and will not be able to take in her Capuchin. Now she wants ME to find out if there are other Sanctuaries like Monkeyland that will take in her Capuchin…but not just yet…only after he has bitten her or one of her loved ones!
The human race stuns me at times. We smoke knowing it can give us cancer, we drink knowing it can screw up our livers, and we eat too much knowing it will give us a heart attack! I have to wonder why we are wired this way. Why are we so destructive? Why are there so many “Save The” campaigns out there yet people just continue to ignore the massive white elephant…. We are screwing up our earth one day at a time.
For me regardless of if you are; keeping a wild animal as a pet, have a bird caged for life, making children work as slaves, buy your animals from back street breeders rather than adopting from over full shelters, burning down rainforests, killing rhino’s for their horn, killing elephants or hunting lions for a trophy… are all the same “YOU are destroying YOUR earth”!

I want you to watch this video on what can happen so very quickly to anyone who has a pet primate…it might not happen to you but it might happen to one of your kids, friends, loved ones!


Finding More Ammo Than Animals In Huge African Rain Forest

In Cameroon’s remote Dja Faunal Reserve—a World Heritage Site—expedition’s findings raise concern for forest elephants, gorillas, and other animals.
Picture of gorillas

A baby western lowland gorilla takes a ride on his mother’s back at the primate sanctuary in Mefou National Park, Cameroon. Gorillas, which are endangered in central Africa, are a profitable target for poachers who sell their meat in towns and cities.


By Paul Steyn, National Geographic

A team of scientists undertook an unprecedented week-long trek last month deep into one of Africa’s largest rain forests.

Their mission: survey the tropical wilderness and scout for animals such as endangered chimps, western lowland gorillas, and forest elephants.

But instead of spying some of the 50-plus mammal species that call Cameroon’s remote Dja Faunal Reserve home, the team documented poaching camps and gun cartridges—and surprisingly few signs of animals.

“There were lots of hunting camps in the core of the reserve, 16 in total, and we saw cartridges all over the place,” says the African Wildlife Foundation’s Jef Dupain, the expedition leader for the grueling 60-mile (90-kilometer) journey. “We found more cartridges than signs of animals—and this is in the middle of the World Heritage Site!”

On Wednesday in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, government officials, NGOs, and donor organizations from around the world are meeting at the Conference of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership. They’re discussing threats—from wildlife poaching to mining and logging—facing fragile rain forest ecosystems like Dja reserve, which covers some 1.3 million acres (560,000 hectares) of the Congo Basin, the largest river catchment in the central African rain forest region.

Dupain was hoping that his team would find more wildlife in the interior of the densely forested reserve.

“We found traces of animals, such as gorilla nests, chimpanzee knuckle marks, and elephant dung every day,” Dupain tells National Geographic. “But we were disappointed with the number of traces we saw.”

In total, they found signs of 36 animals, including forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, giant pangolins, forest buffaloes, and leopards.

Picture of expedition team in the Dja Faunal Reserve

A clearing in the Dja Faunal Reserve provides ease of movement for the team during a 60-mile trek through the dense forest scouting for wildlife.


The trek covered only a small part of Dja, so Daupin hasn’t lost hope. More animals are likely to be sheltering in the reserve’s remote swamplands, he says.

Ecosystem on the Brink

Poaching in Dja Faunal Reserve is a microcosm of the larger problem facing the central African rain forest region and its wildlife.

According to a 2013 study, forest elephants are decreasing in the region—which covers Cameroon, Central African Republic, DRC, Congo, and Gabon—by 9 percent a year from poaching to satisfy demand for their ivory in Asia, predominantly China.

Hunting for bush meat—wild animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, forest antelopes, and bushpigs hunted for the pot and increasingly these days also for sale—is responsible for losses of most other mammal species.

Commercial hunting is prohibited in Dja, but the Baka people (pygmies, as they were traditionally known), who live in and around the reserve, are still allowed to take animals for food.

But growing demand for bush meat in cities such as Yaounde and Douala is providing financial incentive for other communities to illegally hunt animals for the trade.

“About half the bush meat hunted out of forests is consumed by villagers around the reserves, and the other half is sold in towns and cities,” says Fiona Maisels, a conservation scientist who has spent more than 20 years working in central Africa.

According to Maisels, bush meat  costs more than domestically produced meat from chickens or goats but is considered tastier. And it’s valued as a status symbol.

Picture of elephant bones

The expedition found bones of a forest elephant that had been killed for its ivory. Poaching is causing elephant populations in central Africa to decline by 9 percent a year.


Maisels is concerned that at current rate of hunting in central Africa, “the large-bodied animals won’t last more than another couple of decades.”

A 2013 study on the ecological impact of hunting in the region said that overhunting could cause knock-on problems for the forest. Reduce the numbers of monkeys and other natural gardeners that disperse the seeds of trees, for example, and the forest loses tree diversity and density.

“Immediate hunting regulation is vital for the survival of the Central African rainforest ecosystem,” the study warned.

Not Too Late

Members of UNESCO are attending the conference in Yaoundé to review the status of Dja as a World Heritage Site—in particular, whether it should be considered for the list of World Heritage sites in danger.

There are now 46 areas on this unhappy list, five of them in the Congo Basin, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We do not take these decisions lightly,” says Bandiougou Diawara, the UNESCO Program Specialist for Africa. “A monitoring mission to Dja will be undertaken in the coming months to see whether the criteria for which the site was inscribed are strongly threatened.”

Dupain is leading a workshop at the conference on improving anti-poaching systems in Dja and other protected areas in central Africa.

Picture of hunters in Cameroon

Hunters hoist their quarry––a snared bushpig––through the forest on the border of Cameroon. Bushpigs fetch one of the highest prices for bush meat at urban markets.


Meanwhile in Dja the African Wildlife Foundation is introducing a cybertracking device that transmits GPS information about illegal activity in the reserve to antipoaching teams.

In future, emphasis will be given to creating alternative livelihoods for communities around the reserve and building a sense of guardianship for its wildlife.

“These are big tasks,” he says, “But we’re confident that it’s possible to turn things around.”

“Dja is still a massive rain forest habitat, he continues. “We will not leave the area and say it’s too late.”

Written by Paul Steyn for National Geographic – Find Paul on Twitter and Instagram.

If You Love Elephants, Don’t Ever Ride Them. Here’s Why.

Recently, a 43-year-old captive female elephant died in Vietnam.

The elephant — named Na Lieng — was forced to work in the tourist industry, giving “holidaymakers” rides on her back. She likely died, Thahn Nien News reported, from exhaustion.

Sadly, the animal’s death wasn’t an anomalous event.

In March, a 40-year-old captive male elephant also died from severe exhaustion and overwork in the tourism industry, according to local news reports. A 36-year-old male elephant collapsed in January for the same reason: he was found dead with chains still on his front leg. In 2013, two female elephants also died in Vietnam — again, from overwork and hunger.

There are a mere 55 captive elephants left in Vietnam, according to Dr. Pham Vanthinh, a veterinarian from Vietnam’s Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center (DECC), and they are literally dropping dead from their suffering. Almost all of them experience stress and exhaustion from overwork by their owners and tourist companies, Vanthinh told The Dodo.

“Tourists go to Dak Lak [region] to see and ride elephant. [They] will give lots [of] money to the owners, so domestic elephants in Vietnam have to work all day,” Vanthinh says. “All owners will [bring the elephant] into the forest at night and take them to work the next morning.” But in the dry season, he adds, the situation gets even more troubling as they grow weak from lack of food.

And then, in some cases, die.

World Animal ProtectionCaptive elephants

Vietnam has just a sliver of the thousands of the some 12,000 (or more) captive elephants in Asia — many of whom struggle in the same desperate reality. Altogether there are approximately 38,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants globally, and they are listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List and under Appendix 1 on CITES.

Beyond Vietnam, elephants are used for tourist rides, or “treks,” in a jamboree of other nations including India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, which is arguably the hot spot for elephant tourism in the region.

In 2010, World Animal Protection documented the conditions for captive elephants in Thailand in its report ” Wildlife on a Tightrope.” The organization surveyed 1,688 captive elephants in 118 venues across the country, most of which offered elephant rides or shows.

According to the report, more than half of those elephants were in terrible conditions. They were bound by “extreme” restraints. They were unable to socialize with other elephants. They did not receive veterinary care. And for those who suggest that the treks instill any kind of conservation ethos, World Animal Protection found only 6 percent of the venues promoted educational components with the treks.

“Cruelly taken from the wild or bred in captivity,” the report reads, “these elephants are separated from their mothers and family groups at just a few months old. Elephants destined for the tourist industry experience great physical and mental trauma. Isolation, starving, hitting and beating are just some of the methods used to initially break their spirits and get them to behave and perform.”

The crush process: Becoming a captive elephant

Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach is the senior wildlife and veterinary adviser at World Animal Protection and is based in Bangkok. “Tourists may think activities like riding an elephant do no harm,” he told The Dodo. “But the brutal truth is that breaking these animals’ spirits to the point that they allow humans to interact with them involves cruelty at every turn.”

The spirit-breaking Schmidt-Burbach refers to isn’t colloquial: It’s a method. In 2002, National Geographic aired one of the first highly publicized accounts of what’s commonly referred to as the “training crush.” In the graphic video, which can be found here, men beat and terrorize a wild-caught baby elephant in a cage over the span of days in order to crush his spirit — and ready him for a life in the tourism industry.

There are other methods to beat young elephants into submission. According to a 2014 Traffic report, ” An Assessment of the Live Elephant Trade in Thailand,” wild elephants are also caught and forced into captivity through the “pit trap:”

Several methods are traditionally used to capture wild elephants, for example the “pit-trap” method, whereby a herd is corralled using domestic elephants, into a corridor where a pit has been dug. However, these methods result in high elephant injury and mortality rates … Mothers and female minders are often extremely protective of wild infants they are guarding, making it difficult for the poachers to capture them. Using automatic weapons, the protective members of the herd can be easily be killed and the infants removed. The body parts from the slain individuals can then also be sold for profit.

TRAFFICElephants caught from the wild

It’s unclear how frequently the “crush” or pit-trap process occurs, but the market for baby elephants in the captive industry is robust. According to the Traffic report, the market value for a healthy baby elephant is $33,000. The ramifications of seizing elephants from the wild and thrusting them into the captive industry are very significant, according to Simon Hedges, co-chair of the IUCN/SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group. Hedges told The Dodo that “one of the main threats to elephants in their main remaining habitat blocks in Thailand is … the illegal captures for the trade in live elephants.”

One of the reasons that the proliferation of captive elephants in Thailand is able to thrive is a technical difference in how wild and captive elephants are legally identified in the country. Wild elephants fall under the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act of 1992 (WARPA), which affords particular protections and penalties if someone is caught killing a wild elephant. But once the animal enters the captive system, it’s different: Captive elephants are covered by the Draught Animal Act of 1939. According to the Traffic report, captive elephants in Thailand are basically categorized as livestock.

The tourism divide

Given the potentially brutal training process, combined with well-documented science and observations about elephants’ emotional depth, cooperative nature, familial bonds and intelligence, why, then, do tourists who travel to Asia still want to ride elephants?

World Animal Protection conducted another survey in 2014. That survey found nearly 50 percent of travelers “pay for an animal experience because they love animals,” said Schmidt-Burbach. Those tourists might be shocked to know that in some cases, the animals are indeed being treated very poorly.

“When you see a captive wild animal on your holiday, you often can’t see the cruelty,” Schmidt-Burbach says. “It’s hidden from view. And it’s important to remember that a captive wild animal in the entertainment industry can never truly experience a life free from suffering and cruelty.”

For some tourists, sitting atop the world’s largest terrestrial mammal is supremely positioned on the travel bucket list. For others, only ignorant jerks would even consider such a reprehensible joy ride. But for those straddling the proverbial fence, the messages can be confusing: Some travel magazines pen the praises of elephant camps and their mahouts, like this article about Laos inTravel & Leisure.

On the other hand, some travel companies have omitted elephant treks from their itineraries altogether. Intrepid Travel, which it says handles some 250,000 travelers annually, cut elephant treks from all 30 itineraries in January 2013. Christian Wolters, deputy general manager of Intrepid Travel, told The Dodo that the decision has had enthusiastic support and as a result, “2,500 people per year no longer participate in elephant rides.”

But on the ground in countries like Thailand, there is often a more nuanced perspective on tourism, elephant rides and ethics — that only those who are actually working with the elephants can provide.

From the field

John Roberts is the director of elephants and conservation activities for Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort Thailand. Roberts and his team manage a camp of 19 elephants, which he says prioritizes the welfare of the animals.

Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort ThailandRoberts has been working in Thailand with elephants for 13 years and suggests that the debate isn’t as simple as ride-or-don’t-ride the elephant. He says that mahout culture demands that generation after generation of men in certain families own elephants, and “elephant need 400 lbs of fodder a day, families need to live, and so mahouts use elephants to make money — and currently tourism is the only option.”

The way mahouts treat their elephants depends on what they predominantly learned from their fathers and grandfathers, says Roberts. And that knowledge inevitably transfers into the ethos of the camps.

Tourist camps, Roberts says, run the gamut: “from huge ‘factory’ camps with no thought for elephants’ needs and welfare, to camps where elephants are well kept and the mahouts are provided with all the tools they need to help elephants.”

Roberts points out that in Thailand, the elephant trek industry is actually growing, but not necessarily the camps like Anantara. “New ‘camps’ [are] opening up almost weekly in the beach resorts and islands of Thailand as well as spreading to our Asian neighbors,” Roberts notes with concern. He worries that more mahouts will be forced to find work in the new factory-style camps.

As long as the captive industry continues, the question for Roberts is: “How can we use tourism … to look after the captive elephants as best we can, while giving mahouts the tools and opportunity to treat their elephants well?”

Christina M. RussoThe mahout culture is also a very critical component to the story in India, says Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, an organization that aims to halt the abuse of wild and captive animals within the country. India is another popular destination for elephant treks. “A mahout can directly improve or deprive the welfare of elephants in his care,” Seshamani told The Dodo. “Being a part of the problem, he has to be a part of the solution as well.”

In India, explains Seshamani, the traditional methods of mahout training use “the principle of beating the elephant to create ‘fear of the mahout’ so the relationship between the elephant and the mahout is one of master and slave where the elephant receives pain and lives in constant fear, thereby lashing out at his master seeking revenge at an opportune moment.”

Hundreds of mahouts, she says, have been killed by their own elephants.

Steve Koyle

Wildlife SOS, says Seshamani, is establishing a mahout training school in India that will help mahouts “move away from the risky, inhumane and cruel traditional methods towards scientific, positive and safe methods of elephant management.” The organization has also launched the Captive Elephants Welfare Project, which provides veterinary care for elephants and encourages mahouts to find alternative livelihoods.

Still, Seshamani says that until the demand for the elephant rides diminishes, there will always be the cycle of abuse. There are some 3,500 captive elephants in India and the majority of them are used for elephant rides by Western tourists, she adds. And the conditions can sometimes be deplorable: Walking on hot, tar roads. Trained with spiked chains and “ankush” (bullhooks). No veterinary care. Dehydration, cracked feet and abscesses. Being shackled for long periods in the heat.

“We believe that if Western tourists stop being customers for elephant rides, this will immediately change the scenario and improve the welfare and lives of elephants across India,” says Seshamani.

Or, as World Animal Protection’s Schmidt-Burback puts it: “Our advice is simple: If you love wild animals, view them in their natural habitats.”

If, of course, there are any left.

Written by Christina M. Russo
You can also follow her on Twitter: @christinamrusso

Successful operation highlights growing international cooperation to combat wildlife crime

Geneva, 18 June 2015 – The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) welcomed today the results achieved during Operation COBRA III, an international law enforcement operation conducted in May 2015 with the aim of combating wildlife crime and bringing the criminals involved to justice.

Operation COBRA III resulted in 139 arrests and more than 247 seizures, which included elephant ivory, medicinal plants, rhino horns, pangolins, rosewood, tortoises and many other plant and animal specimens. Key successes during the operation included the arrest of a Chinese national believed to have been coordinating rhino horn smuggling from Namibia, the arrest of a notorious elephant poacher in India and the seizure of 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns in Mozambique. Over 50,000 illegal wildlife items were seized in the United Kingdom, as well as an additional 10,000 in Austria and 5,000 in Germany, which included large volumes of illegal supplement capsules containing wildlife products. Other countries where large numbers of illegal items were seized include China, Singapore and South Africa. In total, 37 countries reported seizures and/or arrests during the operation.

Mr. Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), highlighted that “the success of Operation COBRA III sheds light on the widespread and intricate network of criminals who are profiting from wildlife trafficking worldwide. While I congratulate the participating countries on these seizures, I also hope that equal emphasis is placed on the prosecutions and intelligence-led investigations which have to follow. It is key to keep in mind that it takes a network to defeat a network.”

Multilateral cooperation and collective efforts stood at the centre of the operation organized by regional enforcement networks and intergovernmental organizations under the chairmanship of the Association of South East Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) Law Enforcement Extension Office. Officers from customs, police, forestry, wildlife and other law enforcement agencies from 62 countries in Africa, America, Asia and Europe worked together closely to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

Mr. John E. Scanlon, the Secretary-General of CITES, said “Operation COBRA III is a great example of the collaboration that is needed between multiple organizations, disciplines and agencies to combat organized transnational wildlife crimes. It is most encouraging to see enforcement agencies working together across source, transit and destination States to combat these serious wildlife crimes, which makes it increasingly likely that these illicit activities will be detected and the criminals behind them brought to justice.”

ICCWC made a significant contribution to Operation COBRA III by providing financial, operational and technical support. Generous funding to ICCWC by the European Commission enabled the consortium to fund the establishment and operation of an International Coordination Team in Bangkok, staffed by representatives from participating countries, wildlife enforcement networks and intergovernmental organizations. This significantly promoted cooperation and information sharing and provided an opportunity for enforcement officers to work side by side with their counterparts from other countries on identified cases. CENcomm, the World Customs Organization’s (WCO) secure and encrypted communication tool enabled investigators to exchange real time intelligence and information, and to target and track suspicious cargoes, poachers and traffickers of endangered species.

“Wildlife poaching and smuggling continue to threaten many endangered species with extinction. Cooperative enforcement operations such as this one are crucial to combat these nefarious activities and to raise awareness of the problem’s scale. I commend the customs authorities and other agencies that are making a difference on the ground in the struggle against wildlife crime,” said WCO’s Secretary General, Mr. Kunio Mikuriya.

INTERPOL on behalf of ICCWC led the support provided by the consortium during Operation COBRA III. “International collaboration to address wildlife crime is the main priority of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime. It is through initiatives like Operation COBRA III that ICCWC can provide support and guidance to countries to help them prioritize transnational investigations of wildlife crime, enhance the impact of their enforcement activities, and ensure the appropriate investigative follow-up occurs,” said Mr. Cees Van Duijn, Coordinator of biodiversity projects with INTERPOL’s Environmental Security unit.

Officers from INTERPOL, the WCO Asia/Pacific Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO) and the WCO East and South Africa RILO worked with national law enforcement agencies and wildlife enforcement networks in the Bangkok International Coordination Team. The CITES Secretariat supported the operation from its Geneva office and analysts from UNODC were deployed to assist with the collection and analysis of data.

Mr. Vatanarak Suranartyuth, Director of ASEAN-WEN Law Enforcement Extension Office noted that “the success of Operation COBRA III resulted from the commitment of all partners to exchange intelligence and tackle the illegal wildlife trade across source, transit, and consumer countries.” Mr. Suranartyuth also stressed that “we are really focusing on taking action against wildlife crime syndicates by cooperating and coordinating closely through the International Coordination Team and will follow up on our investigations”.

Further arrests and prosecutions could be expected, as follow up investigations resulting from the operation continue.

Note to editors:

Please note that the number of seizures and arrests indicated above only includes those made during the operational period. Pre-operational data has not been included.

For more information, contact Liu Yuan at +41 22 917 8130 or

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With 181 State Parties, CITES remains one of the world’s most powerful tools for biodiversity conservation through the regulation of trade in wild fauna and flora. Thousands of species are internationally traded and used by people in their daily lives for food, housing, health care, ecotourism, cosmetics or fashion.

CITES regulates international trade in over 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment. The CITES permit system seeks to ensure that international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal and traceable.

CITES was signed in Washington D.C. on 3 March 1973.

Learn more about CITES by visiting or connecting to:


ICCWC is the collaborative effort of five intergovernmental organizations working to bring coordinated support to the national wildlife law enforcement agencies and to the subregional and regional networks that, on a daily basis, act in defence of natural resources. The ICCWC partners are the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization.

The mission of ICCWC is to usher in a new era where perpetrators of serious wildlife and forest crime will face a formidable and coordinated response, rather than the present situation where the risk of detection and punishment is all too low.

In this context, ICCWC works for, and with, the wildlife law enforcement community, since it is frontline officers who eventually bring criminals engaged in wildlife crime to justice.

ICCWC seeks to support the development of law enforcement that builds on socially and environmentally sustainable natural resource policies, taking into consideration the need to provide livelihood support to poor and marginalized rural communities.

Learn more about ICCWC by visiting