Tory plans to axe elephant protection in Animals Abroad Bill face resistance

A group of Asian elephants travelling a water-logged wild landscape
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The Conservative government is facing resistance to its apparent backpedaling on planned legislation to protect non-human animals overseas.

A raft of organisations recently wrote to the prime minister to express their “extreme disquiet”. This was in response to rumours that elements of the Animals Abroad Bill are destined for the parliamentary shelf. In particular, the signatories called on the government to make good on the bill’s “promise” to ban unethical tourism advertising. Because this advertising relies on the ‘brutalisation’ of elephants, particularly endangered Asian elephants.

Overwhelming support for a ban

The open letter landed in the PM’s mailbox at the end of a week of discontent among the wider public over the issue. As the Mirror reported, on 20 April Save the Asian Elephants (STAE) released the results of a poll it commissioned. The poll found that 85% of people agreed the government should ban the advertising of venues which involve brutality against elephants.

As The Canary has previously highlighted, elephants are wild animals. They’re not inclined to let people ride on their backs, or feed them, or to paint and do other absurd tricks. They do so at entertainment venues because they have generally been tortured into obedience through a process called pajan. This process can involve beating, crushing and starving the elephants, to name but a few of the horrors, in order to subdue their natural spirits. Moreover, this often happens to babies, who are ripped from their family units at a young age, as they’re easier to brainwash. Their families may be killed in the process.

A dangerous business

This sort of tourism has implications for the survival of Asian elephants. The letter says the species has “been designated as endangered for over 35 years”. And it adds that their use in tourism in Thailand in particular grew by 70% between 2010 and 2020.

There are also health risks for both elephants and humans in relation to the transmission of diseases. And interacting with these traumatised elephants can be dangerous for humans in other ways, too. Helen Costigan’s sister, Andrea Taylor, died after an elephant charged at the audience in a venue in Thailand which they visited in 2000. Speaking to the Independent after the release of STAE’s poll results, Costigan said:

When we went to Thailand we didn’t understand the dangers to us or the abuse elephants face. For a normal person going on holiday, asking whether it’s ethical is not at the forefront of their mind. Travel companies are making a fortune from these places. We didn’t know to do any research, and my sister came home in a coffin.

Read on...

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She also said it was “disgusting” that the government could shelve the ban on unethical advertising.

Shirking responsibility

The Independent reported that a government spokesperson said:

We have been working with the Association of British Travel Agents to encourage them to make their customers aware of reported issues around Asian elephants.

But the letter to the PM argued that self-regulation by the industry has proven insufficient. Organised by STAE and signed by many organisations including Animals Asia, Animal Aid, and Action for Elephants UK, the letter stated:

Numerous promises of change by unethical operators have proved empty over many years. No steps have been taken during lockdown to improve safety or welfare.

STAE says that it has identified a minimum of 1,200 companies operating in the UK market. Between them, these companies advertise 277 venues implicated in brutality against elephants. The letter also noted that India and Thailand, where elephant-related tourism is common, received two million UK visitors in 2018/19. As World Animal Protection’s report – titled ‘Taken for a ride’ – highlighted, 36% of Thailand tourists surveyed in 2014 took elephant rides, or planned to, during their visits.

The UK’s involvement in elephant-related tourism, both in terms of travelers and tourism companies, continues on a considerable scale. NGOs have therefore insisted to the PM that a “new law is needed” to ban advertising of tourism linked to unethical practices in relation to elephants and other species.

It’s about choice

Concerns grew towards the end of 2021 that the Animals Abroad Bill was on shaky ground. This was after repeated delays to its passage through parliament. As the BBC reported, in March the government insisted that the bill’s proposed ban on the import of hunting trophies would go ahead. However, amid mixed messaging from officials, the fate of other elements of the bill, such as the banning foie gras, fur imports, and unethical advertising, remain uncertain.

Critics have blamed the bill’s precarious predicament on opposition from within the Conservative Party. A government source told the Guardian in March that a “handful of crusties have managed to seize control”. Comments by Jacob Rees-Mogg in February suggested that opposition stems from concerns that elements of the bill limit people’s personal choice, the Mirror reported.

STAE’s poll shows that a ban on unethical advertising is the personal choice for many Brits. More critically, a person’s choice to ride an elephant, or to eat foie gras or wear fur for that matter, shouldn’t trump the rights of the other animals involved to live free of torture and pain.

Moreover, the ‘personal choice’ of elephants and many other species implicated in the Animals Abroad Bill would surely be to live their lives freely, in the wild, where they belong. Many people support their personal choice to do so, although this doesn’t include a “handful of crusties” in the government, apparently.

Featured image via Mike Prince / Flickr, cropped to 770×403, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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  • Show Comments
    1. For 50 of my 80 years I have campaigned for humane education in schools; the humane treatment of animals; protection of the environment; protection of indigenous peoples and their traditional homelands; endangered species; conservation of rainforests and other natural forested areas; farm animal welfare; a less destructive way of fishing and for a more humane way of fish farming and also its gross polluting effect on the marine environment.

      In those concerns, I have been part of an increasing number of people world-wide, who have joined the various organisations determined to save Life on this planet from cruel and selfish abuse. In the struggles to install the ethical treatment required to ensure protection for vulnerable human communities dependent on marine and terrestrial environments, that contain the resources for their survival, I have been disgusted with the way such people have been treated. Genocide has been common along with the destruction of precious cultures, as we have seen in the Americas, Australia and Africa, and continues daily despite universal awareness. Added to this, has been the exploitation of wild animals by those who have fostered tourist tours involving Elephants and other animals, to entertain gullible people who are excited by such “entertainment”. I began five decades ago, standing in Glasgow airport distributing leaflets asking those going to Spain or wherever monkeys or chimpanzees were being used to have one’s picture taken with them, not to do so, due to the brutal training of these animals. As time went on, other animal exploitation gimmicks came on the scene with safari tours. Such tours could mean the removal of indigenous people, as “getting in the way”. Today, we have about 70 types of wild animal meat being sold, and the body parts of trophy shot animals being imported. One wildlife organisation of prominence used to tout the idea trophy shooting was “good” for conservation, as it brought income to the local communities, and in reality lined the pockets of corrupt politicians. Asian food markets have an insatiable requirement for meat of any description being sold, without any consideration of the suffering involved when animals are boiled alive.

      In the UK, hard fought for legislation has been stymied by individuals or small groups in our political system associated with blood sports and other forms anachronistic animal exploitation. What this tells those who have campaigned for better treatment of animals, is that democracy does not rule here, when such a minority of self-interest politicians can prevent legislation being implemented against trophy shot animals’ parts or carcases being allowed into the country, and also the advertising of the brutalisation of Asian Elephants by travel companies. MP Rees-Mogg epitomised that retrograde attitude by that powerful inner core of his party, determined to thwart the humane side of British society wishing to move forward on many ethical fronts to create a more caring world. Those in power in this planet can be bastions of repression of any move that will affect their hold on Life, and thereby maintain the gross exploitation of humans and animals. Only the spiritually blind cannot see the loss of biodiversity, the increase in the use of factors causing climate change, the sheer horror being experienced by indigenous and other vulnerable communities, when bulldozers representing deforesters, miners, palm oil plantation companies or individuals, which will eradicate their homelands and create lifeless deserts.

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