The Elephantstay, a so-called “sanctuary” at the Royal Elephant Kraal & Village in Ayutthaya, Thailand, came up with an unusual plan to advertise its new exhibit, “1600 Pandas,” made of thousands of paper mache creations to spread awareness of the dwindling panda population left in the wild. Just one problem, though – this dubious conservation center decided that in order to draw attention to the plight of wild pandas, it would exploit elephants by painting them in black and white to look like their fellow endangered species.

Elephantstay is a not-for-profit conservation program, which states its mission is “to give old elephants a long and happy retirement.” However, judging by the photos of this event, we find it hard to believe this facility is a true sanctuary.

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Notice the bullhook in the caretaker’s hand as the elephants are commanded to stand on their hind legs.

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Not only does it appear that these elephants are being used for entertainment (often the abusive industry that has led these animals to need sanctuary in the first place), but Elephantstay also boasts its “successful” breeding program with 66 births since 2000.

On the surface, it may seem that more elephants are a good thing, but when you consider that 95 percent of Thailand’s elephant population are in the hands of private ownership, instead of the wild, it becomes clear that the births of these elephants aren’t used for conservation at all, and instead, act as an attraction to visiting tourists. On its website, Elephantstay encourages guests to ride its elephants, swim with them, and visit the baby nursery – none of these activities are beneficial to the overall conservation of the species.

Surely there are better ways to promote conservation of pandas than by exploiting elephants. The most disappointing part about this event is that attendees came to this attraction truly believing that they were helping wild animals. Sadly, if it looks like animal cruelty, it probably is – even if it’s disguised as conservation. If people understood that this is exploitation not conservation – and that animals entertain out of fear, not fun – they would surely stop attending. And when people stop going, these profit-driven establishments stop too!

Share this post and encourage others to boycott cruel animal attractions. To learn more about how you can tell this difference between a veritable animal sanctuary, and a “scamtuary,” click here.

Featured image source: Ayutthaya Elephant Village/The Daily Mail

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