Elephants have been used by humans to perform a variety of tasks for around 5000 years, but while people have consistently profited, this relationship has not been greatly beneficial to the elephants. Elephants have been revered, and have greatly influenced culture, myth, and religion, though the deep respect held for the species is unfortunately not often reflected in the treatment of individual elephants. Widespread abuse, poaching, deforestation, increased tourism, farming, and a vast reduction in habitat have all contributed to a rapid decline in elephant numbers.
It is estimated that at the turn of the century Asian elephants numbered approximately 100,000 in Laos alone (and likely in the millions globally). Currently the worldwide population has decreased to around 30,000, most of these live in captivity.
Unfortunately, increases in the human population tend to lead to reductions in the number of living elephants. The main reasons for this are because of poaching, habitat loss and increased tourism.
Current estimates for 1kg of ivory on the black market in China (the worlds largest market for illegal ivory sales) is around $3000 US Dollars.
Due to their high intelligence, it is possible to train elephants to perform a broad array of tasks, from hauling logs to painting. This adaptability and aptitude, coupled with their immense size and strength, meant elephants were naturally seen as ideal work animals. Historically, they have been utilized by logging companies to haul lumber, but widespread deforestation has caused legal logging to officially cease throughout laos. Sadly, logging camp elephants were forced by humans to contribute to the destruction of their own habitat, and deforestation is now one of the major threats to elephant survival (in addition to the detrimental effects of habitat loss, deforestation has made poaching easier, and elephants are now more likely to roam onto farmlands in search of food, leading to disputes with farmers). A small amount of illegal logging persists, and elephants used in such camps are often mistreated with knives and spears, and given amphetamines in order to force them to work as hard as possible over abusively long hours.
In ancient Laos elephants commonly played a fundamental role in the military, being used as both transport and weapon. Duels and battles were often fought from the back of an elephant, but military use of the animals was eventually made obsolete by the increased use of firearms.
Nowadays, elephants primarily work in the tourism and entertainment sectors. Unfortunately, very few companies treat their elephants ethically, or with the respect they deserve, instead viewing them simply as a profitable business asset. Young elephants are sometimes poached from the wild to be sold and used as novelties in hotels, or trained to perform for tourists. This practice is incredibly damaging to the population of Lao elephants, as the mother (and sometimes other females, such as the chosen 'foster mother') is often killed during the poaching process, and this separation greatly endangers the life and long-term health of the infant. Some estimate that as many as 70% of baby elephants currently used in tourism may have been poached from their natural habitat.
Work includes tourist riding, logging, and circus activities.
Sometimes they are made to carry people for up to 8 hours. Being forced to work whilst in the heat of the day slowly wears the elephants down as elephants need to cool down and be allowed to eat more than they are provided. They are hurt at these camps guides use hooks to force them to carry tourists which they hit the elephants with, causes bleeding.
Elephants are not designed to carry weight on their back. They have evolved to support a mass amount of weight suspended below their spine. Elephants spines are not like horses for instance. Examination of the skeleton shows instead of smooth, round spinal disks, elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. These bony protrusions and the tissue protecting them are vulnerable to weight and pressure coming from above.