Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is facing a severe risk which can result in a heavy tumble in tourist arrivals, after the London-based World Animal Protection (WAP) announced that more than 100 travel companies across the world have committed to stopping elephant rides and shows.
Sri Lanka which relies heavily on its elephant based tourist attractions may face severe consequences if global travel companies discourage tourists from travelling to Sri Lanka owing to its animal cruelty, specially against elephants.
According to a statement issued yesterday by the World Animal Protection, travel companies, including global industry players like The Travel Corporation, TUI Benelux, Thomas Cook Northern Europe and Intrepid Travel Group have agreed to stop selling and promoting venues with elephant rides and shows, in a bid to end the cruel practice.
The organization also said that many other companies were to join the 114 global companies who have already given an undertaking to no longer offer visits to venues with elephant rides and shows in any of their markets.
Elephants are one of the country’s main tourist attractions, and tourist promotional material by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, as well as the country’s national carrier, SriLankan Airlines uses elephant parading cultural events such as the Kandy Esela Perahera and the Navam Perahera in Colombo, as well as elephant rides and the Dehiwela Zoo, which chains elephants, to woo in more tourists to the country.
“In order to make elephants submit to elephant rides and other human interactions they are taken from their mothers when babies and forced through a horrific training process known as ‘the crush’. This involves physical restraints, inflicting severe pain and withholding food and water. By the time tourist come to ride an elephant, they may look at peace, but this is because their spirit has been broken. The bull hook used permanently reminds the animal of human dominance,” the statement said.
The setback comes just months after Sri Lanka was named as a top tourist destination for 2016 by Condé Nast Traveller and Forbes, among others.
“If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with the wild animal, the chances are it’s a cruel venue. Don’t go,” the World Animal Protection said.
Sri Lankans too have in recent times taken to protesting against this form of cruelty, with various organisations taking to social media to highlight the cruelty to elephants in the country.
The ‘Say NO to Cruelty to Our Elephants of Sri Lanka’ in a post published on March 18, 2016, called on the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society and Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka to immediately stop elephant cruelty at the popular Dehiwela zoo, which chains elephants and keep them in concrete cages to entertain humans. “Stop this madness! Stop, please stop. Let us as a nation say ENOUGH,” the post said.
A popular school in Colombo also came under heavy flak this month when they used an elephant for their big match parade. However, following opposition from various quarters, the elephant was stopped from being taken on the parade.
Several leading hotels in the country have also come under severe criticism for promoting elephant rides to tourists, while more and more Sri Lankans have become more vociferous against some temples housing elephants, despite it being for religious purposes.
In early March, Buddhist monk and politician Uduwe Dhammaloka was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) for allegedly possessing a baby elephant without a permit. He was subsequently released on bail. In 2014, another Buddhist monk, Kolonnawe Sri Sumangala was alleged to have been involved in a baby elephant trafficking.
Last year during the Parliamentary Election campaigning, Rosy Senanayake was condemned after an elephant was used in one of her campaigns. She later denied her involvement in it and said that the banner had been put on the elephant by one of her supporters, but she had instructed them to remove it as soon as she noticed it.
Sri Lanka’s former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was also embroiled in an elephant controversy, where he had illegally kept two baby elephants. He later handed them over to the Pinnawala elephant orphanage, claiming he couldn’t afford to take care of them. However, no action was taken against him.
Last year, the media was barred from covering a raid by Wildlife Department officials to ascertain if former President Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalist, Sajin de Vass Gunawardena had the necessary permit which allowed him to hold a baby elephant in his Ambalangoda residence. The officials who came out minutes later after entering Gunawardena’s residence, claimed that he had the necessary documents which confirmed his purchase of the baby elephant. However, animal activists were suspicious over the ‘raid’ and the manner in which it took place.
It is believed that at least 60 baby elephants have been stolen from the jungles of Habarana, Udawalawe and been kept by extremely influential people, including politicians, and priests over the years. Often these elephants undergo very inhuman treatment, as they have been chained and cruelly treated.
Despite using elephants as a tourist attraction, Sri Lanka also became the first country in the world to apologize that elephants are being killed for their ivory. In January this year, the government publicly destroyed its biggest ever illegal ivory haul, at least 350 tusks, in an effort to show poachers that the nation will not tolerate the violent trade.
Sri Lanka’s elephant population has reduced to some 7,000, down from a population of over 12,000 at the start of the 20th century. ( By Munza Mushtaq © Colombo Telegraph)
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