polling station

Leaving the EU: The Environment

Firstly I must apologise for the considerable length of time it has been since my last blog post. March, April and May were extremely busy months, with me completing my dissertation and revising for and sitting my final exams at university. It is now June and there are just 3 months until I leave for Thailand!

But now, on to a topic that has rocked the UK today: the European Referendum.

Most people will know by now that the UK voted to leave the European Union yesterday, with millions of Britons waking up to the news this morning. There are both pros and cons resulting from this decision. 150302-Impact-Brexit-Barometer.jpgFactors such as the economy, trade and immigration were most widely focussed on in the media and political discussions. One of my main concerns, however, was the environment, and with many of our environmental targets set by the EU I am worried about the consequences for the environment with this referendum result.

Indications are that environmental protection will now become weaker. The most immediate impact of leaving the EU was clear this morning, with the financial markets crashing. Becoming “green” does not come for free, money is required to develop technology and investments are needed to put methods into practise.

One of the European Union’s greatest, yet somewhat understated, achievements have been the environmental issues it has tackled. These include controlling air and water pollution and protecting endangered species. warning-suspected-pollution-incident-sea.pngThe EU also sets targets for renewable energy, not only allowing this industry to grow, but helping reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Other initiatives include cleaning up sewage on beaches; the water of many was deemed too dirty to swim in, in the 1980s. After legal action from the EU, 99% of the UK’s beaches are now deemed safe for swimming.

The EU Renewable Energy Directive set a target for 20% of the EU’s energy to be renewable by 2020. The UK already showed signs of being reluctant to commit to this, resulting in an individual target for the UK of 15% of energy being renewable. Additionally, the UK consistently falls short of other targets set by the EU. For example, 40,000 people die prematurely in the UK from air pollution and dozens of cities in Britain are failing to meet air pollution targets. The government admitted that London, Leeds and Birmingham will not meet the set targets by at least 2030, which is 20 years later than the original target set by the EU.

The EU places quotas on fishing catch and bycatch. Without these quotas, the seas around the UK could be fished in an uncontrolled manner until there is nothing left. The short term vision is that a lift of these quotas will allow fishermen to sell a higher quantity of fish, and more valuable fish such as tuna, therefore increasing their income and boosting the industry. In the long run, however, fish stocks will collapse, so the benefit will be short lived. Take a look at my blog “Overfished and Underloved” for more information on overfishing.

The laws passed through the EU will still apply to the UK once we leave, however our parliament now has the power to change them. It would also depend on whether we remain in the Europe
an Economic Area (EEA). If we remain within the EEA, most environmental laws, other than the Bathing Water Directive, would still apply. Whether laws will be changed is yet to be seen, however cutting funding for environmental protection may be seen as an easy way for the future govetractor.jpgrnment to save money.

On the other hand, leaving the EU gives us more control over the environmental protection laws passed. This may mean that we can fine-tune them to be more specific for the UK’s individual requirements and could allow us to spend allocated money more effectively. The EU has also passed a moratorium on the use of genetically modified crops. This is a whole debate in itself, however the restriction of use may be leaving us vulnerable to crop diseases which may otherwise be prevented.

I have my doubts over whether effective laws will be passed to protect the environment and whether the UK will continue its efforts to reach current targets in the wake of this decision.



Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Throughout my time at university, I have been told by lecturers to look at the way the media portrays new scientific studies and advances. I’ve always understood why, but until now none of the news stories have hit me as hard as these:

Headlines from Pakistan Today, Fox News and the LAD Bible

As my previous blog states, tigers are my favourite animal, so I’m probably biased as to why this story in particular caught my eye. Nonetheless, it highlights the struggle scientists face when trying to get important advancements across to the wider public without the message being misunderstood.

As a university student, I am very lucky to have access to almost any scientific paper I could ask for. So I downloaded this one to have a better read and judge the results for myself. The paper is titled “Tracking changes and preventing loss in critical tiger habitat,” by Joshi et al (2016).

The doubling of the tiger population by 2022, mentioned by the news articles, is a target set in 2010 in Russia, called the Tx2 in response to the rapidly diminishing tiger population and habitat. This agreement aimed to set up Tiger Conservation Landscapes (TCLs) to help reach the target. Figure 1 shows the distribution of these TCLs.

Figure 1. Tx2 TCLs have the potential to double tiger populations by 2022.

Data provided in the paper is not initially encouraging. It highlights a total loss of 7.7% of total tiger habitat from 2001-2014 and a loss of protected (TCL) habitat of 5.7%, resulting in a loss of around 400 tigers.

The authors note that this loss of habitat is much less than expected, which may be due to increasing conservation efforts. On the flip side, the impact of the habitat loss that has occurred has been devastating. For example, the habitat lost in the Cambodian Northern Plains landscape was enough to support 174 tigers. Conflicting data such as this continues to be provided. The study explains that while a forest corridor connecting Nepal’s Bardia National Park with India’s Katarniaghat Tiger Reserve is now being used by tigers, another survey indicates that tigers are now absent from the Basanta corridor, where they were previously frequently spotted.

The second sentence in the abstract reads “Habitat loss, along with poaching, can undermine the international target recovery of doubling the number of wild tigers by 2022.” Whilst the results from this study do suggest that currently there is enough habitat to support a doubling of the tiger population, habitat loss is expected to continue. This paper should provide encouragement that current conservation efforts are having an impact, and that increasing efforts could have an even greater impact. This does not mean to say that tiger populations are out of the woods. The threat of extinction is still very real.

When taken out of context, the headlines reported seem fantastic. But what is a doubling of the tiger population in reality?  7000 tigers. That is less than a third of the current polar bear population (IUCN Red List).

Before taking what is written in the news as a given, take the time to look into their news stories. Is everything really as it seems?

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 11.05.03

I prefer this headline, from Headlines and Global News.


Happy World Wildlife Day!

Today is World Wildlife Day, celebrated every March 3rd since its creation in 2013. This year it is centred aroundwwd_logo_english elephants, with the theme “The future of elephants is in our hands.”

Elephants are fantastic creatures, who have made sacrifices for our sake. Throughout history they played important roles in shaping the human race, but now the tables have turned and they need our help. Find out
about 4 iconic individuals who played huge roles in human history here.

World Wildlife Day is a day to celebrate wildlife and raise awareness for the world’s flora and fauna. My favourite animal is the Tiger, Panthera tigris, so here are a few facts to help you celebrate this majestic big cat with me.flying-tiger-wallpapers

There were once 9 subspecies of tiger: Bengal, Siberian, Indochinese, South Chinese, Sumatran, Malayan, Caspian, Javan and Bali. The last 3 are now extinct and the South Chinese has not been seen in the wild for 25 years. Tigers currently range South and Southeast Asia, China and the Russian Far East, but they have lost 93% of their historic range.tiger-wallpaper-predator-wild-cat

Tigers are the largest members of the cat (felid) family. The Bengal and Siberian subspecies are the largest, growing up to 120 cm in height and 3.5m long, weighing anything from 65-300kg.


Tigers are solitary animals, except during the mating season (November to April in tropical climates, winter months in temperate regions). Cubs becomes independent at around 18 months, but will stay with their mothers for up
to 2 1/2 years. Tigers maintain strict territories, within larger home ranges which may overlap. A male’s range is larger and usually overlaps with several females’.

Estimates suggest there are less than 2500 tigers left in the wild, a huge decrease from the 100,000 estimated at the beginning of the 20th century. The Bengal tiger has the largest population size of the remaining subspecies. Poaching for fur and body parts for trade and medicine alongside habitat loss have led to the depletion of the tiger’s population.

Tx2: With so few tigers remaining, efforts are aiming at bringing tigers back from the brink. An ambitious goal has been set: double the tiger population by 2022 (the next year of the tiger). Combating poaching and reducing habitat loss are vital components in the fight for the tiger’s survival. Protecting one tiger protects around 25,000 acres of forest and all wildlife within it
Tiger Reserves: The Satpuda forests of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra in India contain a network of 7 tiger reserves, connected by forest corridors. The Satpuda Landscape Tiger Programme (SLTP) was set up by the Born Free Foundation, and WildCRU at the University of Oxford. They aim to protectIMG_0650-Russian-Tigers.jpg tiger habitat, reduce human-tiger conflict, monitor tiger populations, raise awareness and improve the livelihoods of people living alongside tigers.

IUCN: Launched in 2014, the Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme was set up as a result of funding from KfW and the German Government. With aims similar to the tiger reserves in India, the programme offers grants of  €700.000 to €2 million for individual projects run by NGOs, governments and local communities.

Celebrate and raise awareness for your favourite animal too.





A report by World Animal Protection came out recently highlighting the Top 10 Cruellest Animal Attractions. The research was in partnership with the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and came up with these Top 10: 10-cruellest-attractions

Riding elephants and walking with lions is something I have already blogged about, with riding elephants especially, as something I am passionately against, catching people’s attention. It is great to see a report like this labelling elephant riding as the number one cruellest animal attraction.

What surprised me most though, as I read further into the report, was the findings about reviews from tourists on Trip Advisor. People would comment on the poor conditions they saw animals in, yet it would not affect the rating they gave the attraction. Have we really become so self indulged that our satisfaction is placed so highly above animal welfare?

As a race, as a species, have we lost compassion? We are the most intelligent species on the planet, but have we lost the most basic instincts? Are we so numb to, so accepting of, the cruelty that happens that we consider it normal, daily life?

We were not the first animals to roam this planet, and neither will we be the last.

Find the full report here.


Flights, Camera, Action!

This blog is a little different (and shorter) from the ones I’ve been writing recently, mainly due to the fact that today was the day I bought my plane tickets for my trip to Thailand in September! I will be leaving on Friday 16th September and arriving in Chiang Mai on the 17th.

It has really struck me how real this is now, and with only 9 months to go I am getting extremely excited (and nervous). I can’t wait to be able to get my hands stuck into conservation, and to throw myself into a brand new culture.

On a side note, GVI have asked me to blog for them. My first blog went live last week, you can find it here: 4 Reasons Why The Environment Needs Elephants.

I will continue to write this blog; now I’ve bought my tickets I can’t wait to start blogging about my experiences in Thailand!

LincolnParkzoo 30

Are Zoos Good?

Zoos and aquariums bring about a lot of controversy. They’re good for education and research purposes, but bad as they take animals away from their natural habitat and put them in enclosures. (Zoos and aquariums will be referred to collectively as zoos).

Of course, there are ‘good’ zoos and ‘bad’ zoos, but how good are the good ones, and how bad are the bad ones? Do the pros outweigh the cons, or should we be leaving these animals in their natural habitats?

Recently, National Geographic posted an article about 18 elephants that are planned to be moved from Swaziland into 3 US zoos.


The reason why is that they are believed to be crowding out rhino and other animals, and would be shot anyway. The zoos say that the addition of new elephants will “improve the sustainability of elephants in North America” through breeding programmes, along with improving zoo attendance.

Problems arose when a Seattle Times reporter looked into US zoo elephant statistics, finding that 50% of all the US’s zoo elephants die at half the age of wild elephants. These elephants typically die from injuries or diseases related to captivity. African elephants are classified as endangered, and under CITES, import of animals should not be detrimental to their survival or be used primarily for commercial purposes. The decision on whether to import these animals will be made between the US and Swaziland.

This particular example pulls up a couple of problems linked with zoos. Are they detrimental to each individual’s health and wellbeing? It is very clear that the space available to zoo animals is only a fraction of the amount they would have in the wild, affecting their sense of freedom and stimulation. seaworld orcasSize also impacts on the amount of individuals that can realistically be kept in an enclosure, which then impacts on individuals’ social bonds. This was something that was brought up by PETA when investigating SeaWorld’s orcas. Problems facing captive orcas have recently been brought up in the documentary film ‘Blackfish,’ which could be suggested to have started the snowball effect looking into the alleged abuse these animals undergo.

However, zoos can have positive impacts. Most notable among these has to be reintroduction programmes. Paignton Zoo in Devon has been working on a reintroduction programme into Cornwall for the Cirl Bunting. This little bird had become increasingly rare in the UK, becoming restricted to Plycirl-bunting-alamy-439969mouth and Exeter. in 2006 the programme began, with the first breeding pairs being reared in Paignton and released. There are now over 50 breeding pairs in Cornwall and they have spread into parts of Devon.

Some zoos are the last place of refuge for some animals. Species that have been pushed to extinction in the wild can be kept alive in captivity. The Scimitar-Horned Oryx has been extinct in the wild since 1999, primarily due to hunting for its horns, but are still breeding successfully in Chester Zoo (UK), Werribee Open Range Zoo (Australia), Attica Zoo (Greece) antelope.jpgand another 214 institutions around the world. In 2008, there were 1703 registered individuals. Reintroduction programmes have been planned and put in place, but their success is yet to be seen.

Zoos are also a place of education. They inspire children to have an interest in wildlife, educate the public on current conservation issues and provide a learning experience for schools and universities.LincolnParkzoo 30 In recent years, zoos have been making their conservation efforts very clear, with species’ conservation statuses being visible on signs, emphasis on breeding programmes and possibilities to ‘adopt’ an animal so that the public can contribute.

It would seem that for some animals, zoos are not good. Some species are simply not suited to be kept in zoo environments, and may thrive better from in situ conservation. But for other species, they provide safety from extinction, and even chances of reintroduction. They are places that can educate people so that more species can be saved. The question ‘are zoos good’ is not a simple on to answer.


Bringing Back Beavers

Beavers are known as ecosystem engineers- they alter their environment and manage the biodiversity and biomass found within it.
bEAVER-DAMAGE-100420965This can have many positive impacts: creation of fertile soils- perfect for a range of riverbank plants, fish stock recovery, reduced water flow- useful particularly during heavy rain and flood periods, and creation of new, complex underwater habitat between the river and the bank. Dams also help purify water and trap silt, reducing turbidity and sedimentation of water courses.

Concerns about reintroducing beavers into the UK range from disease introduction, such as beaver fluke and beaver beetle, reduction in agricultural land due to wetland creation and the impact to fish. The beaver beetle is a parasite to beavers alone, and with proper screening, disease introductions can be managed.Scottish Beaver at Knapdale Forest, Argyll, Scotland Beaver dams only flood small amounts of land, and compared to the large scale flooding they can control, the economic impact is minimal. Fish migrations have been studied in Scotland to understand the barrier effect of dams. Initial studies suggest that dams do impede movement upstream in salmon and trout, but due to increased habitat diversity, the impact on abundance and productivity is positive. These are only preliminary results and the issue needs further research.

Eurasian beavers are native to the UK, but have been extinct here since the 16th century, when they were hunted for their pelts, meat and scent glands. Schemes are now starting to bring this native animal back. Beavers have been reintroduced into Scotland- the Scottish Beaver Trail started in 2009, introducing 4 beaver families into Knapdale Forest. These beavers have been thriving, with 2 new beaver kits spotted this year. web-beaver-pa

In Devon, the Wildlife Trusts have set up an enclosed 3 hectare area containing 2 beavers, with the aim of researching the effects that beavers have on wetlands and to help inform future reintroductions. The original small stream has been transformed into an amazing network of waterways.

Now there is another project in Devon. In 2014, beavers were found on the river Otter, their origin unknown, but suspected to be the result of an escape or unauthorised release. Initially, Defra planned to place them into captivity after fears of disease (E. multilocularis forms liver cysts, it cannot be transferred between beavers, but it can be transferred to other mammals). After the animals were found to be disease free, the Devon Wildlife Trust were granted pDevon_beaver_by_David_Plummerermission to start the River Otter Beaver Trial. You can follow their story here.
There are now an estimated 12 individuals in 4 parts of the river. Recently there have been concerns that the beavers have disappeared, but the Wildlife Trusts have assured us that there is no need to worry. In fact, you can head down to the river to spot them for yourself.

Devon Wildlife Trust – Beavers from seenit on Vimeo.


Overfished and Underloved

I eat fish probably once a week. There are 1 billion people around the world who depend on fish as their main protein source, and over half the world’s population gets 15% of their protein from fish. But how much is that really? In 2012, total fish production from fisheries and aquaculture was 158 million tonnes. Nearly double the production of 20 years ago. fishing

Even with this rising production, people still go hungry. The human population is increasing and with no indication of slowing, it’s expected to reach 9.3billion in 2050. With this comes increasing demand; it is estimated that global fisheries need to increase output by 35% by 2030.

These are all big numbers, but what does it really mean?

The majority of the fish we eat is categorised as vulnerable or endangered. And these aren’t just obscure species that you’ve never heard of. Bluefish tuna stocks are at 4% of historic levels. Predictions suggest the global oceans have lost 90% of large predatory fish, which includes cod, billfish, tuna and flatfish species. This image shows the decline, by plotting the number of fish caught per 100 hooks on a pelagic long line, from 1952 (a) through to 1980 (d).


The spread of the blue shows how the number of fish caught is decreasing all over the world.

Scientist Boris Worm has predicted that all currently fished species could have collapsed by 2048. That’s only 33 years away. Fish biomass is decreasing. slippery slope to slimeThe North Sea biomass of fish 16-66kg is 99% less than what it would be with no fishing. Fish are becoming smaller, as they are being caught younger, often before they have reached reproductive maturity. We are approaching what has been termed “The Slippery Slope to Slime,” with the capacity of recovery unknown.

You wouldn’t eat a Giant Panda if it was offered on a menu. You wouldn’t eat a tiger, an orang-utan or an elephant if it was on the shelf of a supermarket. So why is it okay to eat the bluefin tuna? All these animals have the same conservation status, given by the IUCN. They’re all endangered. The Atlantic Cod, your fish from the chippy, has the same conservation status as a lion.


So where are we going so wrong?

One of the major problems is that people just don’t realise. Even scientists didn’t realise quite how desperate the situation has become. The sea is somewhat of a mystery to us. It’s much more difficult to quantify the number of animals in it, it spans 71% of the globe, travels deeper than man has even been and contains many hidden secrets. Fishermen realised their catches were shrinking, but the consequences were never fully understood. Now we can no longer blame naivety. Now we know there is a problem.

Another problem is IUU fishing. Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing. Countries and fishermen are set quotas of the number of fish they are allowed to catch. Sometimes to avoid these, boats will not declare their catch, or they will declare it as a different fish for which they have quota left to fill. It is believed around 1/3 of fish produce sold in America is mislabelled. This means that you may not be eating the type of fish you thought you bought. Some boats don’t declare their catch if it is a particularly expensive species and rare species, that may have some protection. In Japan, whaling is allowed for scientific research, but after genetic tests done on fish in markets, scientists found whale meat being sold as food.

Bycatch is the accidental catLeo blog : Romanian fishermen are cleaning up their net from small dead fishch brought up alongside the target species. It is usually discarded over the side of the boat, dead.
Bycatch can be around 30% of an average catch, but for some fisheries, such as shrimp fishing, it can reach levels of 20:1. In the EU, a discard ban came into place in 2015 (until 2018). The aim is for fishermen to become more discriminate in their fishing methods, as all fish they catch must then be taken to shore and landed, whether they want it or not.

What Can You Do?

Knowledge is a powerful thing. A film documentary called ‘The End Of The Line‘ is a fantastic place to start.
With commentary from leading scientists, it brings to light the imp
acts of overfishing. It follows fishermen, policy makers and restaurateurs, confronting them about their apparent disregard for the oceans. Watch the trailer below:

Cut down the amount of fish you eat. Protein and omega 3 can be found in other places than oily fish. Increase the amount of nuts, leafy greens and red meat instead, and you won’t notice a difference.

Look at labelling! Fish are labelled when they are caught with a reduced environmental impact. Look out for these:

landscape-web-high logo_pole_lineSRFS_Logo_31293mfreedom-fooddolphinSafeLogo

But beware, they may not always be completely sustainable.

Change which fish you eat. Move away from cod and haddock and try sardines, mackerel and herring. Coley is a great cod alternative. Be adventurous and try mussels, clams and cockles. If you’re not sure, have a look at this to find out which fish you should buy. Note that the sourcing area for many fish is really important.

Please buy your fish responsibly!


Cute or Canned?

Every so often, I bet you come across a photo like this:

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100

It looks like a lucky person, on their gap year, having an amazing experience petting and looking after some cute and tiny lion cubs. Look at their t-shirt and you can even see it says ‘Volunteer.’ Someone who has most likely saved up a lot of money to spend on the year of a lifetime. Experience a different culture. Learn about a unique environment and it’s wildlife. Raise lion cubs for slaughter.

Wait what? Surely that last sentence was a typo.

Unfortunately, for the majority of the time, that is the stark reality of it. People from all around the world are paying tourist companies for what they believe is just the chance to pet a baby lion, when in reality they are being raised for another person to pay a lot of money to kill it. To hunt it in an enclosed area. To pose with it when it has been shot dead. To call it a trophy.

When an animal has been denied the element of a fair chase, either by physical or mental constraints, the act of hunting it is termed ‘Canned Hunting.’ A branch of trophy hunting, canned hunting is used to almost guarantee the customer a kill. The animal is usually placed in a fenced area, where the customer will enter with a trained guide. After a lifetime of human contact, the animal does not perceive the hunter as a threat. Sometimes they even approach them, expecting to be fed. The end result is inevitable.

Most people by now have heard of Cecil the Lion, shot by an American dentist for sport. Cecil was a wild lion, who had become well known as he was being scientifically monitored.

In this undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Two Zimbabweans arrested for illegally hunting a lion appeared in court Wednesday, July 29, 2015. The head of Zimbabwe’s safari association said the killing was unethical and that it couldn’t even be classified as a hunt, since the lion killed by an American dentist was lured into the kill zone. (Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP)

His death is a tragedy, but luckily his life was not. The same cannot be said for canned lions. Every year, around 1,000 lions are bred for this ‘sport.’ But it’s not just lions, it’s tigers and cheetahs too. It’s any animal for which there is a demand. Their lives are spent in captivity, surrounded by humans, separated from their mothers. Captive females are often forced to breed on a much more regular basis than they would naturally, to keep up with demand.

Costing around US$25,000- $50,000, it’s much cheaper than the $75,000 safari hunts, and safaris don’t even guarantee you a kill.

A recent campaign has produced a documentary, Blood Lions, laying down the truth about canned hunting in a touching film. You can get involved by signing up to the Blood Lions team and spread awareness of this issue. National Geographic has written a report on the issue, based around Blood Lions. One group who has already started raising awareness in my local area are Loved to Death, a group set up by students at the University of Exeter, campaigning to raise awareness of all lions set for the trophy hunting trade.

There are numerous petitions you can sign, here’s one. Campaign Against Canned Hunting is another group you can get involved with. It’s an issue that has been raised by PETA.

It’s obviously a massive issue, but it’s also a massive business. It’s a problem that therefore will require a prolonged group effort to make a difference. It requires awareness by anyone who wants to go on a cub petting experience. If you’re planning a trip like this, do some research on where you are going. What is the end result for that cute lion cub you spend the day cuddling?


I Want To Ride An Elephant!

Because why not? A trip to Asia isn’t complete without an elephant ride. Right?


There are an overwhelming number of reasons why you should never ride an elephant, ranging from their physiology to how humans treat them.

Just like most wild animals, elephants naturally avoid humans. They’re not as skittish as some animals, but neither do they look to humans for interaction. Just like horses, elephants need to be broken in order to be ridden. But unlike horses, elephant breaking involves a lot more pain, beating and mistreatment.

It is easier to break a baby elephant, but in order to do that you must catch it and then separate it from its mother. This can be done using a ‘pit trap,’ where wild elephants are corralled into a corridor ending in a pit by domesticated elephants and riders. Unwanted elephants, typically protective mothers and other females, will be shot and sold.


This mother and calf were rescued from this pit recently. In India, pits have been banned, but they were never filled in. Now that they are not in use they do not get regularly checked, and therefore an elephant may become trapped and not be found for days.

Once an elephant has been captured it is no longer categorised under the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act of 1992 (WARPA) guidelines, losing them any protection. In captivity they are classed as livestock, just like cattle and sheep, and not recognised as the endangered animals that they are. This leaves elephants vulnerable to the breaking in process called ‘the crush.’ 


All captive elephants are put through this, tied alone in a small pen, beaten with bullhooks and bamboo, deprived of food and water and taught the basic commands that its captors require. During this time, the elephant’s spirit is broken and its naturally strong family bonds are lost.

This process is only the first of many tortures that elephants will have to endure throughout their life in captivity. Elephants are beaten whenever they do something ‘wrong,’ bearing the scars for the rest of their lives. They have to cope with the weight of a howdah (a large carriage situated on their backs) or saddle with typically 2 tourists, plus their mahout, who tends to sit on their neck. The average elephant can carry 150kg, and with a howdah weighing around 100kg, this should leave space for only one small person. Many tourists operators will not remove the howdah all day, which is not only a heavy burden, but can lead to sores, particularly around the legs and tail where they are tied on with ropes.

Elephants have long vertebrae in their spines. A howdah or saddle placed on top of theses creates a lot of concentrated pressure and therefore a lot of pain.


You can see from the image that there is very little padding between the vertebrae and the elephant’s skin. Mahouts tend to sit on the elephant’s neck, where the bones are not so close to the surface, making it more comfortable for the elephant. This should be the only place you sit on an elephant if you ever have to.

Asian elephants are highly social animals. They maintain complex relationships with other elephants, even those that they may not have seen in over a year. Just like humans, elephants have emotions, form bonds with friends and family and require time to socialise.


As part of riding camps, elephants are given very little time to themselves, and even less time to spend with other elephants. Imagine spending your life in solitary confinement whilst being beaten and forced to carry heavy loads.

It seems to be coming to people’s attention more and more that these animals are struggling in poor conditions. Cases of asian elephants killing their mahouts have been increasingly reported in the news, but is it really that much of a surprise that these usually gentle giants are having to resort to such extreme measures to escape?

There are plenty of charities that are doing their best to raise awareness, money and provide a safe haven for rescued elephants. The charity I am interning with next year, GVI, is just one of many charities rescuing and protecting elephants. You can help the elephants by supporting my internship and these charities:

My GoFundMe
Save The Asian Elephants