The tourism industry is a big part of the problem for elephants and yet the industry can also be a big part of the solution. The Vietnamese news site, Tuoitre News, published an article this week detailing plans by authorities in Vitenam’s Central Highlands region to import elephants from Thailand or Sri Lanka to boost their declining elephant population in the area. The government hopes to import one or two pairs of elephants from Sri Lanka or Thailand to be bred in Buon Don in the hope of repopulating the herd for tourism and conversation of the local cultural identity. The region’s administration has however previously come under fire for the over-exploitation of elephants, which has led to the death of some of the elephants due to exhaustion while serving tourists. Read the full article here…     
If you love elephants, help keep them in their wild homes, even if it means you won’t get that selfie… elephants viet (Photo credit: Tuoi Tre)  

Kat Blais, co-founder of Global Sanctuary for Elephants has shared the following excellent commentary on the Swaziland to USA elephant debacle–worth reading every word.

Swaziland, a giant step backward for elephants and for our society

How we treat those around us is a substantial part of defining our moral fiber as individuals and as a society. Today, we are living in a world of increased awareness of the depth of animal complexity: intellectually, socially, emotionally and their role in the balance of the natural world. We now know, without any doubt or hesitation that animals are so much more than we gave them credit for just two decades ago. Less and less we are seeing them as things, objects and commodities. But this week punctuated that zoos are not in this same boat as the rest of our evolving society; they continue to be willing to sacrifice family bonds and social structure as they compromise the health and well-being of individuals. With all that we know, based on years of science, three zoos have all but destroyed the lives of the 18 elephants (15 of them under the age of 12) that were captured in order to replenish their diminishing ‘stock.’ This includes the one elephant who has already lost her life due to poor management and the lives of the families they left behind.

Zoos have done an incredible job at self-promoting themselves as top animal experts, scientist and conservationist, but the data and the truth show otherwise. When you look at the decades of information collected and knowledge gained by field biologist, it’s quite clear that everything we do to elephants in captivity is detrimental to their health. It is what has caused the need to bring in wild elephants to replenish a dying population. Zoos are consciously masking the truth and scientific data, as they implore deceptive, diversionary tactics, and a fair number of straight out lies. They throw out huge numbers; “our $15 million state of the art exhibit,” it’s an impressive number but does little to bring peace or happiness and certainly not good health to the elephants who have been enslaved. They claim that this direct action is all about conservation, but once again the data does not support this. And if they spent even half of the expansion funds on true conservation projects, their net positive impact would be substantial compared their current menial financial investment to conservation.

This deal, this entire operation was designed for one purpose- to restock zoos with elephants so they can continue to make money as an attraction to the public. Zoos will claim that these elephants are pivotal to educating our children, “These elephants will build an appreciation for elephants that encourage their protection for decades to come.” But zoos have been in existence for centuries and elephants are still being slaughtered and enslaved into captivity at an alarming rate. As I recently read in an article that so poignantly puts this in perspective, kids love and know everything there is to know about dinosaurs and they have never seen one and never will.

If you ask the kids or even adults about elephants they know little about who they really are. At the last zoo I worked at, the primary two questions we were asked were “Can we ride her and does she do tricks?” When this same elephant, at the zoo was allowed out of the exhibit to graze on the grass in a picnic area the number one comment was, “I didn’t know elephants ate grass.” This is the education the public is receiving.

I have spent the majority of my life, more than 23 years, helping captive elephants recover from the traumas of captivity. Even those from “good” zoos are a fraction of their true selves when they arrive to sanctuaries. With every individual that I’ve had the great honor and blessing to work with, we’ve observed the truth depth of the negative impact of captivity and it’s far more extensive than most people comprehend, even those of us that have seen the worst of the treatment they endure. And through sanctuary we have also seen the profound recovery and rediscovery of what it means to be an elephant and who they are as a pivotal individual. When I hear the level of deception from zoos that has allowed these Swaziland elephants, precious and sacred individuals to be sacrificed, all I can do is feel remorse for the willful ignorance of our society.

We have to make a change. We need a global shift in consciousness. We need to open our eyes to the truth and be aware enough to see through the deception. It is clearly not enough for the scientists of our world to stand up against the self-serving decisions of the zoos; each of us must stand up and say enough. These lives matter and to each of these 17 that arrived into the US less than 36 hours ago, and the thousands of elephants that live in captivity, please know that we will continue, every day, to help shift away from the ignorance and greed that has fragmented your lives. When our world awakens to the truth we will be there to welcome you to sanctuary. We can’t reverse the decisions of the past but we can provide you with the space, respect and honor that will allow you to feel once again, what it is to be an elephant.12814474_881846995259602_7805467616968576886_nPhoto credit: Fabrizio Chiruzzi


Ganga’s illegal permit #198 has been formally addressed in court and steps are currently underway to ensure her safety.

The Criminal Investigation Department has taken the order from Colombo Magistrate Court #1 for Ganga and 12 suspected illegally-captured young elephants to be placed into the protective custody of the Department of Wildlife.

Ganga, along with the additional 12 innocent baby elephants, is to be immediately transferred to safety and placed under the compassionate care of veterinarians and experienced caregivers.

As the hectic pieces for securing custody of Ganga were coming together yesterday, I walked past a gigantic installment of street art that said “Face It and Rise Up”. When this long fight seemed impossible, when the naysayers tried to drown out those who chose to believe, when falling down and staying down occasionally seemed like it might be the smarter thing to do, today’s positive action for Ganga is occurring thanks to many people in Sri Lanka who graciously and consistently chose to Face It and Rise Up.

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Stay Tuned, nourish great hope and patient presence, for more is forthcoming as soon as possible! We look froward to sharing more good news, when Ganga and her new friends will be free of their chains with room to roam, in a world where Compassion Trumps Captivity!


After an inspiring and productive time in Sri Lanka this winter, I’ve returned to Thailand for a time to dig back into our Humane Tourism campaign, exchanging rupees for baht, curry and rice for rice and curry, and big snakes for big spiders.

What remains consistent in both countries is the tremendous amount of elephants in need and the equally tremendous momentum that comes when organizations work together, uniting for the common good of captive and wild elephants alike.

Although every person we work with brings a connecting piece to the complicated puzzle of crafting sustainable and compassionate change across cultures, we’d like to give a huge shout-out of deeps thanks to a few of the extraordinary people we share the journey with in Sri Lanka:

*Sujeewa Jasinghe and Sudarshani Fernando, our truly wise, wonderful, and generous friends at CES;

*Tamsin Webb of the Millennium Elephant Foundation, who works tirelessly to change the minds of tourists and mahouts alike while still making time to talk to every visitor about the big picture of “2 Million Letters for Ganga”;

*The SLWCS Field team— to Supun C Herath Herat, Sarath Kumara and Indika Sampath for how you translate everything (and how you drive a LandRover); and to Chathuranga Dharmarathne, Chinthaka Weerasinghe and Chandima Fernando, for how you see the world through the eyes of wild elephants, and help me see it too.

Working alongside people like you, I know that elephants—captive, wild, and yet to be born—actually have a chance to simply be elephants.  Earlier-Blog

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For years before we met her and for the majority of her young life, Ganga has been chained by two legs off the side of a busy city street, unable to walk, lie down, or even turn around, held fast inside temple gates, utterly alone.

Kept without free access to food, water, or personal shelter and confined without another elephant for companionship, year after year Ganga has stood a solitary captive in the entry to the Gangarmaya Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In a few weeks, this all could change…

As unconscionable as it is to confine any animal in this way, perhaps even more so that such a cruel practice continues in the name of religion, ultimately it is only the judicial system that can alter the path of care for Ganga, and finally that system is hearing her story.

Literally!  Yes, you read that right—not only will her case be heard in court, but in keeping with a system that requires proof to initiate change, Ganga will be taken by lorry to be seen in court—proving who she is while demonstrating her permit holder has confined her illegally at the temple, and that she has every legal right to be taken immediately into safe custody.  Even though many of us believe it is morally wrong to confine her, now it can be proven that it is also legally wrong to subdue her at the temple, and THAT is what has the power to change her future.

Action filed on behalf of Ganga, and other wild-caught elephant calves held in illegal captivity since March of 2014, has been taken by the Center for Eco-Cultural Studies (CES). Since then, and working in tandem with a team of stakeholders, CES has successfully rescued other illegally captured wild-born calves, and remain steadfast in their commitment for not only Ganga’s freedom, but dozens of other young elephants, most of whom have forged documentation and false registration papers.

Nothing is for certain of course until it has happened, but every puzzle piece has been put in to place to enable what is right to transpire. No matter what happens on the 10th, not one of us will cease in our efforts until until she is in the expansive home that is already waiting for her, roaming among other elephants, every one of them unchained, until she can reclaim her rightful place in the world.Ganga Walking

To the diverse advocates who have supported CES and Heart of Ganesh in these years leading up to the day that could change Ganga’s future (and those just like her whose cases are next in line), please remain kindly steadfast in your support and powerfully non-combative in your presence as the story slowly unfolds.

Although in the end it is the law that will decide what happens to Ganga, when all of our voices united in Compassionate Action become more prominent than the leftover voices of dissent, we will have created a world where Compassion Trumps Captivity. And not just for Ganga, but for them all, and truly, for each one of us as well.