World Elephant Day!! Elephants are not Entertainment: At Home and Abroad

Traveling can be a fantastic way to explore different perspectives, cultures, and experiences. As an animal lover, it can be so rewarding to use your travel time to build new relationships with local wildlife. However, due to COVID restrictions, not only is travel more complicated, the animals used to create these magical moments abroad are often being exploited and abused, given the lack of legal protection available for animals globally.

            It might be an ideal time to learn more about the industries that exploit beautiful wild animals such as elephants for human entertainment and profit. Unfortunately, many popular animal attractions abroad involve the use of elephants. In Thailand, elephant entertainment projects abound. National Geographic reporter Natasha Daly recently explored this world and came out with some shocking findings of abuse. [1] Elephants at many tourist attractions are taken from their mothers early in their life and ‘broken’ to ensure they are compliant when a tourist rides them or take their picture with them. This separation process of ‘breaking’ the babies involves a harsh combination of physical and mental abuse. Sadly, the final product is an elephant that appears to be enjoying itself, leaving hordes of tourists oblivious to the harm it endures behind closed doors. As a responsible animal tourist, when travel is in your plans, please do your research to ensure you are visiting attractions where the wild animals are healthy, happy, and well-cared for. The more natural their environment looks to their natural habitat, the better.[2] Keep in mind that keeping elephants and other wild animals in captivity is not an ideal situation.  

There are many sad and heartbreaking stories. The recent death of a pregnant fifteen-year-old elephant in India who died in agony after eating a firecracker-stuffed pineapple caused outrage. I was horrified when I read this story and learned that farmers in the area are known for using explosives in fruit to protect their land from wild animals. What a tragedy and although these elephants are roaming freely, this is yet another example of human exploitation and abuse!

            While these are common international problems, Canada is not perfect in its treatment of animals. Canada has taken positive steps towards better animal welfare recently, for instance banning of whales and dolphins in captivity in 2019.[3] That said, Canada has a long way to go to treat wild animals with respect. In Canada, as in many places, animals are treated as personal property and not as the sentient creatures they are. This has vast implications, including in the courtroom. Animals are, of course, not able to represent themselves before a judge. Should humans, then, be able to speak on their behalf? A recent Alberta court case tells us no.

            Lucy, the elephant, currently held at the Edmonton Zoo, has been the passion project of animal advocates for years now. Animal rights organizations claim that her living space is too cramped, that the local weather is too cold for her, and that she should not be living alone. Her case even attracted celebrity attention from the likes of Bob Barker and Steve-O, amongst others.[4] Despite this wave of public support, when a wildlife charity sought an order to move Lucy out of the zoo based on an alleged violation of the Animal Protection Act, the charity was denied standing. The Court of Appeal held that the charity had not demonstrated a genuine interest in the matter, so they were not allowed to even attempt to make their case.[5] The Supreme Court went on to deny leave to hear the case.

            This can seem overwhelming and discouraging. However, we can look to the future and the strong voices arising in opposition as a source of hope for the future of animal rights and in the animal welfare community. It should be noted that the dissenting judge in Lucy’s case, aptly stated that for animals to be meaningfully protected, either they or their advocates need to be given legal standing.[6] As an animal advocate and my law firm, Gartner and Associates, in the meantime, will continue to be a voice for the voiceless for legal protection as loudly as possible, until the law comes around and recognizes the need for more robust animal protection for animals.

[1] Natasha Daly, “Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism”, National Geographic (June 2019), online:

[2] Natasha Daly, “How to do wildlife tourism right”, National Geographic (15 May 2019), online:

[3] Amy Held, “Canada Bans Keeping Whales And Dolphins In Captivity”, NPR (11 June 2019), online:

[4] Phil Heidenreich, “Supreme Court won’t hear wildlife protection charity’s appeal in case of Lucy the elephant”, Global News (19 Dec 2019), online:; Tyler Dawson, “Advocates for Lucy the elephant fail to convince courts to review her confinement conditions at Edmonton Zoo”, National Post (28 May 2019), online:

[5] Zoocheck Canada Inc v. Alberta (Minister of Agriculture and Forestry), 2019 ABCA 208.

[6] Ibid at para 54.