Lasah ‘isn’t Abused.’ Is that really So?
Asian elephants are highly social animals that need plenty of freedom to roam and forage for food. Photo Credit: Perth Zoo
Lasah is fine, thank you very much. He isn’t lonely or sad or neglected or abused. Now if you could please stop bugging us about him, that would be much appreciated.
This is essentially the gist of an answer that the management of the Langkawi Elephant Adventures Park (LEA) has given in response to repeated allegations by the prominent animal rights group Friends of the Orangutans (FOTO) that the 37-year-old pachyderm kept at the park for the amusement of visitors has been facing years of abuse and neglect.
FOTO has provided photographic evidence that indicates Lasah has been kept in chains and isolation most of the time. This, the group stresses, constitutes a form of animal cruelty. Lasah is denied any freedom of movement and nor is he able to socialize with other elephants. The group has been spearheading a publicity campaign to have Lasah be taken away from the amusement park and transferred to an elephant sanctuary in Sabah so he could live out the rest of his life in well-earned retirement.
In interviews with media, however, the park’s director Serene Lau Xiao Woon has refuted claims that Lasah has been either neglected by his keepers or abused by them. Lasah, who was acquired from his previous owners in 1998, was chained up sometimes, she said, only upon the recommendations of the park’s veterinarian for the pachyderm’s own benefit. “The elephant is usually tied for a short period of time to save him from further harm,” she said, referring to face wounds that, she said, Lasah suffered years ago before he had been brought to the park.
She went on to say Lasah was kept away from other elephants for his own good, too. “Males live in solitude if they are rejected by the alpha male,” the park director said. “This was the case with Lasah as he had daily conflicts with other male elephants.” Nor is the pachyderm overworked, as FOTO claims, the director insisted. He has only light duties at the park in entertaining visitors.
FOTO will have none of those rebuttals. The nonprofit continues to campaign undaunted on behalf of Lasah to secure the animal’s release. “Our investigation indicates that Lasah could have developed pressure wounds on his face and legs as a result of having to lie down on hard surface for prolonged periods. Moreover, we are wondering if Lasah is in fact chained on a daily basis after LEA is closed to the public?” stressed FOTO’s director Upreshpal Singh.
The animal rights activist has been joined by other leading conservationists in questioning the park director’s claims. “If the goal of chaining an elephant is to prevent it from lying down, that is counter-intuitive and a seriously flawed elephant management practice,” noted Carol Buckley, founder and president of Elephant Aid International. “Lack of sleep and the inability to get off his feet is stress inducing and can compromise his immune system, make him frustrated, aggressive and prone to physical and emotional deterioration,” she explained.
Nor does Singh buy the argument that Lasah is kept in isolation for his own good. “Some [elephant] bulls in captivity fail to interact in a healthy manner with other bulls,” he explained. “Fighting can be the result of frustration and fear. Human dominance undermines an elephant’s self esteem and can damage their ability to socialise with other elephants in a healthy manner.”
He added: “It is true adult males are less social than females, but in the wild they are seldom completely alone, except during musth, and have freedom to move and interact with other elephants.”
It’s a classic case of he said/she said. An animal rights activist insists Lasah is in very bad shape. A park director insists he is fine and well. Who are we to believe?
Here’s the thing: even if all of Ms. Lau’s claims were true, Lasah would still deserve to be freed from the park. By her own admission, Lasah does not fit in well with the other elephants there and so he needs to be kept in isolation, through special arrangements that are demonstrably detrimental to the animal’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Lau has admitted as much herself.
That being the case, it’s hard to see why the park insists on keeping Lasah, rather than letting the elephant retire at a sanctuary in Sabah, where he would surely have a much easier time. Perhaps, Ms. Lau would be willing to explain that as well.