5 quick questions with Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach

10 August 2017

Our Senior Wildlife and Veterinary Advisor, Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, travels to remote parts of the globe assessing the welfare of wild animals and advise on the care of animals in captivity.

After visiting thousands of elephants in captive conditions across Asia, his verdict is clear: the animal tourism industry has to be phased out.

An elephant ride is extremely popular amongst tourists, especially in South East Asia. What’s the problem?

“There is more than one problem. What I’ve found from visiting more than 200 venues is that these elephants are suffering – because of cruel training, as well as severely inadequate living conditions. Their diets are poor and they’re usually chained when they’re not performing, denying them any opportunity to socialise naturally with other elephants, which is a key part of their life in the wild.”

How long has this been going on for?

“Asian elephants have been used for thousands of years by people, but it’s only in the past few decades that communities have started to increasingly use them in tourism, for example giving rides, performing tricks in shows or closely interacting with people. This goes against the natural instincts of these complex, powerful and intelligent animals, which ultimately impacts their welfare, sometimes to the extreme.”

What is the focus of your current research mission?

“Much of our work out in the field is about collecting, analyzing and summarising data on the poor welfare conditions of elephants in captivity so that the information can be published, bringing much-needed attention to what has become an urgent issue. Working with our global wildlife research team, we work on peer reviewed publications to ensure our data is reliable and solid.”

What’s the end goal?

“Our aim is to raise awareness and affect change. We need to work to protect elephants from further suffering and find ways to reverse the current trend of subjecting them to poor conditions and cruel treatment within captive settings.”

“We need to work to protect elephants from further suffering.”

– Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach

And what needs to be done to achieve that?

“We really need to work on a sustainable solution to phasing out the industry, which means fi rstly shifting consumer demand from cruel entertainment activities towards more humane alternatives.

We also need to transition conventional elephant camps to elephant-friendly venues and restrict captive breeding. Lastly, we need to ensure that people who are dependent on the elephants’ income are part of that journey towards an elephant-friendly future.”

You can help raise awareness of the cruelty suffered by elephants in the tourist entertainment industry by pledging to be an elephant-friendly traveller.  

Asian elephants have been used for thousands of years by people, but it’s only in the past few decades that communities have started to increasingly use them in tourism
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