Dark secret: Bali's hidden shame
MILLIONS of tourists visit Bali every year, with a vast number of these coming from Australia. But the Indonesian island paradise is harbouring a dark secret.
An undercover investigation by World Animal Protection has found 100 per cent of venues with captive animals, including elephants, tigers, orang-utans and dolphins, don't meet the basic needs of animal captivity.
Ben Pearson, senior campaign manager for World Animal Protection, told news.com.au: "We chose Bali [to investigate] cause that's where most Australians go on holiday and we were shocked at how bad the conditions were.
"The most concerning thing about these findings is that all venues are inadequate. At least with countries like Thailand, we can say, 'Yes go to this one, but don't go to this venue.'"
The Wildlife Abusement Parks report investigated 26 wildlife tourism venues in Bali, Lombok and Gili Trawangan with undercover investigators posing as tourists.
The investigators found that animals suffer an inordinate amount for our holiday memories.
Research found many of the dolphins within Indonesian entertainment venues were illegally caught in the wild.
For bottlenose dolphins, the risk of dying increases six-fold during the first five days of capture.
Some of the more disturbing findings of the report were:
- Dolphins at one venue had their teeth filed down or removed entirely to ensure they were unable to harm swimmers.
- All dolphins were kept in severely inadequate conditions - one pool, estimated to be 10x20m and 3m deep, housed four bottlenose dolphins.
- Five of the 13 dolphins observed were seen to have signs of wounds, injury and disease, including potential blindness most likely caused by chlorinated water.
- All of the elephant venues offered elephant rides, which involves cruel training and exposes the elephants to stressful situations, increasing the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- 100 per cent of these sites used wooden or steel saddles, which are physically demanding on the animal.
- 51 per cent of elephants observed had no possibility of tactile interaction with other elephants. As highly socially developed animals, isolation profoundly impacts on captive elephants.
- Nearly 15 per cent of the animals displayed stereotypies - abnormal repetitive behaviours indicative of stress and suffering.
- All of the tigers observed were kept in severely inadequate conditions; the most concerning aspect being the housing and space available to them.
- All venues with orang-utans offered selfie experiences, which put humans and wildlife at risk.
- Only 15 per cent of venues had one or more vets on site permanently - 46 per cent relied on animal keepers to administer veterinary treatment.
World Animal Protection is now hoping to raise awareness of the practices involved.
"The growing demand for harmful wildlife selfies, shows and encounters is a serious animal welfare issue in Bali and surrounding islands," Mr Pearson said.
"Behind the scenes, wild animals are being taken from their mothers as babies or bred in captivity to be kept in filthy, cramped conditions, or repeatedly forced to interact with tourists on end."
Elephant rides in particular are extremely problematic, and raise many cruelty concerns.
"An elephant needs its spirit broken before you can ride it," Mr Pearson said.
Often the process will involve severe restraint so that the elephant only moves when commanded by the carer. Severe pain is often inflicted to quickly establish dominance. This process can take between a few days to a week.
To stop the cruel practices, and ultimately safeguard wildlife, World Animal Protection is calling on Australian companies to stand up to the attractions.
Mr Pearson said: "We contacted Flight Centre and Qantas, because we saw a lot of promotions for wildlife attractions. It was really quite concerning, because they were describing the experiences in glowing terms.
"Both companies came back to us and said they would take the content down and audited their website to remove any articles promoting elephant riding."
However, while this is a positive first step, he maintains it isn't enough.
"What's disappointing is we need a more comprehensive wildlife policy which looks at the type of venues promoted and then looks at how to educate tourists as to what is good and what is bad.
"While the two companies audited and then removed their content, they are not going to the next step. We really need a big iconic Australian brand like Qantas to be a leader in this space."
Qantas told news.com.au: "We've been in dialogue with World Animal Protection in relation to their campaign. They've shared with us several overseas animal and wildlife venues which, while popular with tourists, are believed to have poor standards of animal welfare. Qantas will no longer promote these venues on our digital channels."
Flight Centre also told news.com.au via a statement that they audit thousands of suppliers and tour operators to identify any issues pertaining to animal welfare. They focus on working with suppliers to improve their offerings, and should they not improve, they are removed from site.
In regards to developing a long-term wildlife policy, Haydn Long, global media and investor relations manager, told news.com.au: "I am sure we will look at it in due course - World Animal Protection floated this idea with us just last week.
"We have a long history of working proactively with World Animal Protection and we have similar beliefs in many ways, but we cannot immediately make some of the changes that it wants us to make to better educate the travelling public overall."
Individual tourists are urged to be part of the solution by making ethical travel choices. World Animal Protection asks travellers to avoid these venues and any travel companies that promote or support captive wildlife encounters.
"If you can ride, hug, or have a selfie with a wild animal, the chances are that animal has been subjected to cruelty," Mr Pearson said.
While travellers may leave with a photo, it's the wildlife that pays the true price. Where is the paradise in that?