Elephant rides at African Lion Safari ‘disturb’ animal welfare advocates

Directors from two different animal welfare organizations weighed in on the prospect of riding a wild animal at a private park on Monday. Don Mitchell / Global News

For several days, animal lovers have been commenting on a social media post from African Lion Safari revealing an attack on a trainer by an elephant. The incident is now under investigation by the Ministry of Labour.

Comments on the Facebook post, made by the private animal park, concerned many. Not just for the well-being of the male trainer, but also expressing concern over the use of elephants for entertainment.

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“Maybe that’s why elephants shouldn’t be in captivity and spend their days entertaining humans.” said one comment.

“I love coming to the safari… however, the elephant rides do make me sad. The elephant is made to walk on such a tiny circle.” said another.

Two directors at a pair of animal welfare organizations are surprised the Hamilton-based animal park offers rides with such a large unpredictable animal.

Camille Labchuk, Executive Director of Animal Justice, said she was “disturbed” to see a news report that claimed the incident occurred in the context of an elephant ride.

“I, frankly, had no idea that African Lion Safari was giving out elephant rides,” said Labchuk, “It seems like visitors to the park can climb on top of an elephant, likely for a fee, and go on an elephant ride. Frankly, it’s a miracle that the public or a child wasn’t hurt in an incident like this until now.”

LISTEN: Bill Kelly talks Camille Labchuk, Executive Director of Animal Justice, about an elephant attack at African Lion Safari on Friday

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Labchuk went on to say that elephants have social structures and very complex societies of communication with family relationships.

READ MORE: Elephant trio leaves Calgary Zoo for good

“Keeping them in captivity is just not the way to go,” Labchuk told Global News Radio, “You can look up YouTube videos of African Lion Safari elephant shows, and you’ve got elephants dragging logs around the little stadium you’ve got them kneeling down you’ve got them pretending to shake their heads and doing all of these completely unnatural behaviours.”

Meanwhile, Melissa Matlow, campaign director for World Animal Protection, told Global News she had known for sometime that the practice was happening at the park, but equally shocked when she went to check it out.

“The activity of elephant riding in Asia is very popular, like in Thailand for instance,” said Matlow, “It’s something that we’re trying to change there and we weren’t sure that it was still happening in Canada. And we did visit and seeing that it was and, yeah, it was pretty surprising.”

Global News reached out to African Lion Safari on Monday for a comment on the recent incident, but had not received an answer by end of day.

There’s only one other known elephant in the Canada, according to Matlow, which is Lucy at Edmonton’s Valley Zoo.

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READ MORE: City of Edmonton defending Lucy’s care after ‘dishonourable mention’ on Worst Zoos for Elephants list

Two other city zoos in Canada did have elephants at one time, Toronto and Calgary, however the herds were dispatched to the United states after public pressure on municipal governments.

Toronto zoo moved aged elephants Toka, Thika, and Iringa to a zoo in California in 2012 backed by a campaign from former Price is Right host Bob Barker.

Meanwhile, in Calgary, Kamala, Swarna and Maharani were moved to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., in 2014.

WATCH: Bob Barker welcomes elephants from Toronto Zoo

African Lion Safari is a drive-through Wildlife Park, west of Hamilton, and boasts to have the “largest Asian elephant herd in any zoological facilty in North America” with 16 elephants in its park, according to their website.

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On Friday, Ornge air ambulance confirmed they airlifted a man in his 30s to Hamilton General Hospital with serious injuries.

Hamilton police later confirmed that same man was injured in an elephant attack.

Ministry of Labour spokesperson, Janet Deline, told Global News that an investigator was dispatched to the site, late Friday afternoon, and she said he would “be looking for potential contraventions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”

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