Asian Elephants and Humans
Thousands of Asian elephants are domesticated, despite their endangered status in the wild. They have been used by humans for centuries as religious symbols, for transport, as working animals, and even as fighting platforms in warfare. The Asian elephant is vital for forestry work and is used to transport logs and fell trees. In India they are used for patrolling areas to protect other species from poaching, especially during the monsoon season when areas would otherwise be inaccessible. Hindus value the elephant very highly and it is important for a number of religious ceremonies. Captive elephants in distress have been known to weep, just like humans, though generally captive elephants are well treated by their owners because they are so highly prized.
Despite their endangered status in the world, there are many domesticated elephants in Asia and they are particularly common in India and Thailand. Unfortunately modern machinery has meant that in some cases there is less need for an elephant’s strength and intelligence than before. Instead they are used as performing street elephants, there to do tricks and entertain people for money or to be fed to by tourists who buy bananas from their keepers. This was the outcome for many elephants in Thailand who lost their forestry jobs in 1989 when a logging ban was put in place. They were no longer profitable for their owners who had no other choice but to make them work. There are also situations in which elephants are used for work in cities and towns.
It is now illegal for elephants to be used in this way in many areas, but the practice still continues. Street elephants suffer greatly from poor health, with sore feet hitting the hot tarmac instead of soft ground, sunstroke and dehydration due to the lack of shade and gastric and respiratory problems in polluted cities. They are often involved in road traffic accidents too. The noise and artificial lights combined with their poor health makes them disorientated and unwilling to do tricks, so they often suffer physical abuse from their keepers. Their eyes may look cloudy due to the drugs they are given to fight their fatigue and keep them going. There are solutions to this problem but they would need a concerted effort from various parties such as government agencies and NGOs to make them effective, as well as tourists not showing any interest in them.