After a photograph of a skeletal elephant on his knees surfaced online last month, an overwhelming public outcry actually helped make a bit of difference for the captive animals there.
Two of the five elephants at the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo in Thailand appeared to be severely underweight — and they were still being forced to perform tricks for visitors. Zoo staff insisted that the animals weren’t suffering from any health issues.
In this case, internet backlash actually sparked action: Local authorities from the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation inspected the zoo (whose license had lapsed in 2016, it was later discovered), and examined the elephants.
Investigators found that the animals had lost several of their teeth and couldn’t chew the food the zoo was giving them, according to the Bangkok Post. They were slowly starving because of this.
Thankfully, the investigators ordered the zoo staff to allow the elephants to rest and to figure out a plan for bringing up their weight through softer foods.
But the incident sheds light on just one case — and it’s hard not to consider how many cases go unseen at facilities like this due to a lack of regulation.
“Thailand, like many other countries in the region, faces numerous challenges in detecting and suppressing the trafficking of its native wildlife,” Nuggehalli Jayasimha, managing director of Humane Society International (HSI) in India, told The Dodo. “Lack of strong animal welfare legislation and lack of regulation of zoos, circus and street performance has resulted in [the] suffering of elephants.”
There are indications that progress is being made. “In March last year, [Thailand] announced a 10 percent increase in elephant numbers within protected areas,” Jayasimha said. But there’s still room to grow: “Having a robust animal protection legislation that will create a deterrent to animal abusers will have a positive impact.”