Animal Abuse: Is It Just An Eastern Issue?

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A volunteer feeding one rescued elephant at the Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai, Thailand.

When we hear stories of animal abuse or mistreatment, most of us automatically assume it must have occurred in an Eastern country. But this is far from the truth. Western societies are no exception when it comes to the harming of animals.

In Eastern countries, ignorance is the main reason for animal cruelty, according to Sydney Wildlife World employee Hannah Correy.When we hear stories of animal abuse or mistreatment, many of us assume it must have occurred in an Eastern country. But this is far from the truth. Western societies are no exception when it comes to the harming of animals.

“A lack of education leaves them unaware that animals feel pain just the same as we do.”

In countries such as Thailand, locals exploit Asian Elephants primarily due to their lack of education for money.

Picture this; you’re on the back of an elephant for a safari ride through the dense, picturesque rainforests of Northern Thailand. What you don’t know is that this elephant was once wild and captured in the most inhumane of fashions.

Ten men separated it from its herd when it was but a baby and bound its legs with rope so he could not move. Forced into an enclosure too small for him, the petrified baby was to begin days of torture. He is stabbed over and over again with long, sharpened sticks. He is starved, dehydrated and isolated. A few days into the ‘breaking of the elephant’s spirit, he is defeated and exhausted, with nothing left to do but surrender. This is where its training as an elephant tour-guide begins, according to Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Thailand.

The beating and training of elephants occurs each and every day in this country, says ENP. We don’t hear about this when Thai locals lure us into their wild, jungle tours. Naively, Westerners support this act of revenue-raising, all in the name of cultural sight-seeing.

Still in Thailand, Lucky, the star of Lucky Elephant Circus, was at times forced to work twice a night with a touring circus from the age of one to 30 with a touring circus. After being subjected to this arduous and artificial life, Lucky sustained blindness in both eyes from the spotlights. She was rescued in February by Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai, a sanctuary for mistreated rescued elephants who are nursed back to health through donations and by volunteers.

Lucky’s story, unfortunately, relates to the majority of elephants in Thailand, rather than the minority. Chang Mai’s ENP coordinator, Daeng Chaidee, says “street begging and elephant shows are the main culprit” when it comes to the mistreatment of these endangered animals.

However, animal mistreatment is not just an Eastern problem. Western countries are just as guilty, which is particularly disheartening considering their awareness of the implications and the detrimental effects these acts can have on innocent animals.

In Romania, bears are exploited and kept in rusty cages three times too small for them, primarily for the entertainment of tourists. Naturally, bears roam the wild in search of food and shelter. Maia, a bear trapped in a cage atop a hill, became so distressed from the confinement that she went mad. Maia obsessively poked her paws through the bars in an attempt to reach the outside world. Upon failing, she began to self-harm; chewing her fur, flesh, muscle, to the bones in her foot. Tragically, Maia died from self-harm. To this day, many bears in Romania continue to suffer a similar fate, according to Welfare Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

Closer to home animal welfare issues have plagued news headlines in Australia. In March this year, more than 100 acts of animal cruelty occurred at an Ingham’s turkey abattoir in New South Wales. Secretly filmed footage shows birds being placed in shackles to be stunned and slaughtered, and workers kicking, punching and stomping on the birds until they died. Some workers even celebrated this behavior.

Animal Liberation’s Emma Hurst told the ABC that it is “definitely the worst that we’ve [ever] seen.”

Still in Australia, live export continues to be an issue. Millions of animals are exported each year and suffer horrific treatment, such as having their throats cut while still alive, dying at sea and enduring abuse in brutal slaughters in countries where there are no laws to protect them. The question must be asked: how can a developed Western country allow this to happen when we know the outcome?

Luckily, through the work of wildlife organisations, the occurrences of these cruel acts are decreasing. Animals Australia is internationally recognized for investigating and exposing animal abuse. It is currently running a “Ban Live Exports” campaign, which has recently caused Independent MP Andrew Wilkie to challenge Prime Minister Julia Gillard to guarantee no more animal cruelty.

Similarly, WSPA is spearheading animal campaigns against animal mistreatment, like the Bricks for Bears campaign that builds sanctuaries for freed illegally kept animals. There are countless more organisations raising money and awareness about these horrific issues, including World Wildlife Fund, RSPCA, and other zoological societies across Australia and the globe.

The work of these organisations is invaluable, but is it enough?

Both Eastern and Western countries have laws surrounding animal welfare, however, effective regulation of these laws is yet to be perfected.

In Thailand, there is no animal welfare laws exist. New animal welfare laws to be introduced soon, will not protect wildlife from mistreatment and abuse. This is particularly bad news for endemic, rare and endangered species found all over the country that will continue to be “poached, tortured and exploited, possibly to the point of extinction,” according to the Wildlife Friends Foundation, Thailand. Having no laws to protect wildlife, means people only have their ethical and moral values to abide by, with no punishment for wildlife mistreatment.

In saying this, Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, recently announced an end to ivory trading in what was the world’s largest unregulated ivory market. This is certainly a step in the right direction to address animal welfare issues and suppress global wildlife trafficking. Every year, tens of thousands of elephants die as a result of this trade. World Wildlife Fund’s head of deregulation, Carlos Drews, is “thrilled to hear that Prime Minister Shinawatra took this opportunity to seize the global spotlight and pledge to end ivory trade in her country,” but he warns that “Prime Minister Shinawatra now needs to provide a timeline for this ban and ensure that it takes place as a matter of urgency, because the slaughter of elephants continues.”

In Australia, regulatory bodies, such as Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA), work to address issues of animal welfare and biosecurity with breeding programs and legislative lobbying. ZAA’s Manager of Professional Practices, Nicolas De Graff, says “the association takes welfare legislation seriously and works closely with the government to ensure laws and regulations are appropriate. Having national standards assists with ensuring a consistent level of welfare is maintained between states and territories.”

Having bodies that oversee animal rights and regulations, means Australians should be able to maintain appropriate living conditions for all animals.

In Australia, laws are put into place to prevent animal mistreatment, with penalties varying in each state and territory. Under New South Wales’, NSW Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979, those in violation of the act risk a maximum jail time of 5 years, plus maximum fines of $22, 000 for a natural person and $110,000 for corporations.

But do these laws work? Ms Correy says they are beneficial to animals’ wellbeing.

“Australia is one of the better countries in terms of abiding by our laws put in place regarding animal cruelty. These laws are definitely beneficial and very necessary.”

Animal welfare is an issue that affects not only Eastern and Western countries as singular entities, animal welfare, and live export abuse in particular, are problems for the global community. Education and awareness are important in addressing this issue and with the help of volunteers and animal welfare organisations, coupled with updates to current legislation and regulations, the number of animal mistreatment-related deaths will hopefully decrease in the near future.

If you’re interested in making a difference, head to the various animal welfare websites listed below to make donations and/or see how you can help.
Elephant Nature Park
Welfare Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)
Animals Australia
RSPCA
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Taronga Association