Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Beautiful Moment #4 by Chuck Baclagon
September 18, 2009, 2:01 am
Filed under: Change Caravan, Stop climate change, Thailand | Tags: , , , ,


Lea Guerrero

3 Comments so far
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Dear Friends at Greenpeace,

I am the program director for In Defense of Animals, an international animal rescue and advocacy organization based in U.S. While we very much support your efforts to raise awareness of the critical problem of climate chage and its effect on biodiversity, we are concerned about your decision to use elephant-back treking as the mechanism to call attention to this problem.

We are worried that, by this activity, Greenpeace is encouraging the notion that elephant-back safaris and treks are acceptable ecotourism ventures. From an animal welfare perspective and conservation perspective, this is unacceptable.

Most people are unaware that elephants used in these ventures are often caught from the wild as young calves and separated from their families. Further, all captive elephants are forced to endure a cruel training process in captivity that involves breaking their spirits through chaining, beating and isolation from other elephants. Elephants used in safari rides and treks are under the control of mahouts, who must maintain dominance over the elephant at all times. This means that the elephants’ behavior continues to be controlled through intimidation and is directed by use of the bullhook (also called an ankush), a device similar to a fireplace poker used to strike, stab and hook elephants into compliance.

Elephant-back treks negatively impact dwindling elephant populations and conservation efforts because elephants are often illegally caught from the wild to supply tourism and elephant-back safari businesses. Ownership documents are easily falsified and wild-caught elephants are often sold to commercial enterprises as captive-born animals. The popularity of this activity has even spilled over from Asia into Africa, where Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana now have elephant industries and wild elephants are being captured from the wild and brutally trained to supply these new commercial ventures.

The plight of captive elephants in South and Southeast Asia is indeed sad. No longer utilized by the logging industry, they often end up as tourist attractions on busy city streets, and suffer deprivation, starvation and injury. We applaud efforts to help them, but not by exploiting them further. IDA believes that sanctuaries and preserves where elephants can live a more natural and humane life are the only answer to this problem.

In short, while we support your stated goals of protecting elephant habitat and calling attention to the issue of climate change, we believe it to be both illogical and unethical to do so by engaging in an activity that promotes the exploitation of the elephants you are trying to help.

We hope that Greenpeace will, in future, set the right example by declining to support or promote the use of captive elephants in safaris, shows or any other activities that require them to be cruelly trained and dominated. Many conservationists and elephant experts, such as Dr. Joyce Poole (see, have made statements condemning elephant back safaris and treks.

Comment by Suzanne Roy

Dear Ms.Roy,

Thank you for expressing your concerns regarding the welfare of the elephants participating in the Chang(e) caravan.

At the outset, allow me to point out that the Chang(e) caravan is not an elephant back safari at all, and neither is Greenpeace nor any of our partner organizations in this endeavor, knowingly or unknowingly exploiting the elephants. We have been acutely aware of the concerns which you raised in your letter throughout the inception and execution of this project.

Simply put, the Chang(e) Caravan is a people’s caravan for change and we welcome that IDA also appreciates the significance of the project’s message on climate change and deforestation.

Except for ceremonial purposes identified and requested by elephant owners and mahouts – like at the start of our journey, when the elephants carried Buddhist monks for prayers – the elephants are walking unencumbered by chains and/or burden of any kind human or otherwise.

The five elephants participating in the Chang(e) caravan are captive elephants that were rescued from begging on the streets of Bangkok, and rehabilitated by the Thai Elephant Research and Conservation Fund (TERF). As they can no longer be returned to the wild , the elephants now participate in activities intended to propagate understanding of Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) and the need to protect the remaining elephants in the wild by TERF and other conservation groups in Thailand.

Some of these elephants have lived in situations of hard work and cruelty as you also pointed out in your letter. Therefore, before the launch of the Chang(e) Caravan, the five elephants were quarantined for over a month, where under the supervision of a leading Thai elephant veterinarian the elephants were rehabilitated to ensure their good health and well being.

Greenpeace fully supports the work of organizations who aim to stop the cruel treatment of domesticated elephants, and is also working with the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of

Thailand to make this caravan possible. Below, you will find additional information concerning our project partners:

TERF: Thai Elephant Research and Conservation Fund

TERF is one of the few organizations in Thailand that focuses on research, conservation and education about wild elephants. TERF’s plans to integrate research, management, training, education, interpretation and Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) also makes it unique. TERF has been active in imparting knowledge to a wide variety of people through displays, education camps, presentations and the media.

WARF: Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand

WARF is one of Thailand’s leading advocates for nature conservation. Currently WARF operates four different wildlife sanctuaries that are focused on providing appropriate housing and care for animals placed under their protection. Since its establishment, WARF has expanded its operations and developed closer ties with the Royal Forestry Department and other government and non-governmental agencies.

Let me take this opportunity to reassure you that, Greenpeace Southeast Asia shares the same concerns as your organization and we would be happy to explore opportunities for cooperation with you in Thailand along with our project partners to protect our biodiversity and its most charismatic mega-fauna, the elephant.

Very truly yours,

Von Hernandez
Executive Director
Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Comment by Chuck Baclagon

Dear Mr. Hernandez,
I am writing to you as Wildlife Veterinary Programmes Manager of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) Asia.

Similarly to Ms. Roy’s comment, I would also like to congratulate you on your efforts to raise awareness of the ever so pressing issue of climate change, while at the same time expressing my deep concerns regarding the way elephants are portrayed in your Chang(e) campaign. Naturally, I understand that using such a symbolic animal as the Elephant to broadcast your message is a very effective method from a campaigner’s point of view. But as Ms. Roy has clearly pointed out there is a fundamental underlying welfare (and conservation) issue about the use of captive elephants in Asia and as such in Thailand.

While you state that the elephants in your caravan were only made to carry humans for a brief period during ceremonies, I am not in a position to judge this and I am very happy to believe this was the case. However this is not what is being portrayed through by your media footage, and as I am sure you will be aware, it is all about what is shown to the wider public as to what impact a campaign has. Unfortunately in the video recently publicized at the premiere of the film “Age of Stupid” in the biggest cinema in Bangkok, the elephants were shown mostly during ceremonies surrounded by crowds of people, flapping their ears in a possible sign of stress and ,even more worryingly, made to perform tricks, specifically the typical “dancing” that is being performed in all major elephant camp shows.

Despite the sincere respect I have for your work on environmental issues I was disappointed that you chose to portray one of the victims of human encroachment and habitat destruction (a causal factor of climate change) in such a humiliating and degrading way.

One of the biggest problems which Asian Elephants nowadays face is their image of being “domesticated” and, as such, acceptable for use as another livestock or companion animal. This is unfortunately not the case, no matter how long an animal is kept in captivity, and is a fatal misconception for the elephants. A domestication process can only be achieved over generations of selective breeding, which has never occurred in this species. By showing footage as seen in your Chang(e) campaign all the hard work of other groups to change the public awareness of these great but critically endangered animals has experienced a hard set back.

I am sure that neither you nor Greenpeace meant harm or deliberately chose to cause this effect with your campaign but I hope that you could possibly still correct part of the damage, or in the future consider the use of animals in your campaigns more thoroughly.

WSPA and I would be happy to discuss with you any animal welfare relevant questions you might have in the future.

Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach

Comment by Jan Schmidt-Burbach

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