July 16, 2019
Issue 07 2019

A Dark Truth

Fancy a winter getaway to Thailand? How about a wee stopover in Singapore en route to Europe, or maybe backpacking through Laos? Southeast Asia has called to New Zealand’s youth for decades. It’s a paradise packed with adventures, parties, sun and anarchy – a perfect getaway for the 20 somethings that flock there all year round. Girls run to it for an exotic getaway for the ‘gram and guys run to it for its well, other experiences…


But behind these experiences lies a hidden dark side to the tourist experience. South East Asia is one of the leading regions that have recently started to specialise in ‘wild’ tourism. Wild tourism is a term given to any tourist attraction that involves interacting with wild animals – such as safaris, swimming with dolphins, elephant rides and photos with snakes, koalas and tigers.


But behind your photo on Instagram with 1,000 likes are mistreated animals kept in crowded concrete pens restrained with chains attached to poles. They are sedated, beaten, starved and their character is degraded to the point of insanity.


Elephants are one of the most intelligent, communal and emotional creatures on earth. They feel pain, anguish, loss and joy. They are also one of the strongest animals on earth, with the ability to lift loads of over 300kg with their muscular trunks and can pull over nine tonnes. For these reasons, they have commonly been used for the benefit of humans. But now these magnificent animals are becoming side shows.


Elephants are subjected to cruel and ineffective training. The methods require the use of bull hooks, nails and other devices to keep these huge animals in line. The repetition of this abuse is seen through open wounds on the animal’s face. Footage of these conditions are currently circulating on social media platforms. One photo from National Geographic shows a young elephant, skin and bone, leaning against a post to support its body weight.


This mistreatment is justified by owners through profit. Parks can rake in massive amounts from experiences such as elephant rides, paintings and snapping photos posed with the animal’s trunk.


Tigers are another animal significantly exploited. They are commonly declawed to prevent ‘accidents’ as well as sedated to keep them under control. They spend all day chained to blocks – only responsive enough to lift their head for pictures when prodded by park workers


There are hundreds, if not thousands of scientific articles detailing that animals can feel physical and emotional pain. They can feel hunger, dehydration, isolation and fear. Responses of an animal to the same fear inducing stimulus repeatedly can cause extended periods of stress and fear. Ultimately this results in the degradation of their health, just like humans.


So how can we educate ourselves to avoid these animals suffering further injustice?




-          Go to certified elephant and tiger sanctuaries.

-          Do your research! If a sanctuary is owned by the same people that are renowned for mistreatment of animals, chances are that they are actually the same animals. And these are not legitimate sanctuaries.

-           Donate! The legitimate sanctuaries run programmes to rescue and rehabilitate elephants, tigers, monkeys and any other animals that are suffering mistreatment.

-          Educate people who don’t know or don’t understand. Education is a powerful tool




-          If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

-          If you spot any sign of the use of bull hooks, nails to the face or sedation, then it’s time to run.

-          Look for raw wounds that don’t look like they are healing and visible signs of malnutrition (not easy to spot in elephants).

-          Try to avoid riding elephants unless you have done a lot of research and found that the sanctuary in 100% legitimate – just because it’s called a sanctuary, doesn’t mean it is one.


Some places that will direct you to 100% cutely free wild tourism are listed below:






Plus, look through travel blogs like National Geographic and other conservation sites. Do the research and you’ll find similar experiences under much safer and happier environments.