India: In India, particularly in the south, the majority of captive elephants live in temples, where they are believed to bring good fortune. This luck does not extend to the temple elephants, however, who are usually kept on short chains to limit their movements, unable to escape the midday sun or interact with other elephants. They also perform in processions and ceremonies, which can be stressful and physically harmful – all in the name of religion.*
Thailand: Having been used for war, and then for heavy labour, the Asian elephant’s role is changing again. In 1989, Thailand implemented a complete ban on all commercial logging – which resulted in hundreds of unemployed elephants – and unemployed mahouts. Elephants consume up to 200kg of vegetation in a day, and are not cheap to look after; they needed to work to pay for their own upkeep. As the logging ban coincided with the growth of tourism to Thailand, they began to be used to give rides to tourists, as well as being trained to display their old logging and carrying skills in shows, to dance to music and to paint. This is the situation we find there today.
Africa: Africa has virtually no tradition of keeping elephants in captivity, due to the difficulties of capturing and training them. The exception was a small working group in the Belgian Congo from the 19th century, and a now-extinct, smaller subspecies of North African elephants may also have been tamed thousands of years ago. However, following demand from the tourist industry, there is a growing demand for captive African elephants and tourists can ride them, particularly in South African “sanctuaries” and to Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe.