Dolphins at a tourist attraction in Bali had their teeth removed or filed down to ensure tourists were not harmed, leaving the creatures “traumatised”, investigators have found.
Others are put at risk by being forced to leap from the water onto the side of the pool during shows for holidaymakers – putting stress on their internal organs and causing them breathing difficulties.
And meanwhile, behind the scenes at various attractions on the idyllic-seeming Indonesian island, orangutans, tigers and elephants are secretly kept in filthy, cramped enclosures with bare concrete floors.
The cases are among a string of examples of cruelty fuelled unwittingly by tourists, revealed in a report on attractions on Bali and two other Indonesian hot spot destinations, Lombok and Gili Trawangan.
“Having their teeth removed or filed down would be a very traumatic experience,” said Chiara Vitali, head of wildlife campaigns at World Animal Protection UK (WAP), which produced the report. “It would have an effect that lasted for life.”
The report states: “Disturbingly, the teeth of two females, and potentially the younger males, had been filed down to flat stumps, and a few appeared to be entirely missing.
“When this was queried with the trainers running the show, it was claimed that the dolphins didn’t grow teeth because they were raised in a pool. This is impossible, and the far more likely reason is painfully filing down the teeth to stop the dolphins biting trainers and tourists.”
Because members of the public have previously complained about the venue, taking photographs and videos there is banned, the report authors said.
In the wild, dolphins use their teeth to establish dominance through “raking” other animals, leaving superficial marks. Some researchers believe a dolphin’s teeth may play a role in its ability to absorb and detect sound.
Tourists pay to swim with dolphins in Indonesia and elsewhere, being towed by holding on to the animal’s fin – but swimmers are unaware the extra weight may damage the fin, the report says.
It describes how the investigators saw dolphins – originally illegally caught from the wild – kept in pools much too small for their needs. The pool housing the animals whose teeth were missing measured 32ft x 65ft and 10ft deep and had four bottlenose dolphins living in it.
Campaigners at the animal-protection charity say that while Bali may be a paradise island for holidaymakers, it is a hotbed of misery for the 1,500 wild animals believed to be captive there in the tourism industry.
The investigators studied 26 attractions, and concluded that not one of them met the animals’ basic needs.
And four in five venues with monkeys and orangutans failed to meet their basic needs.
Among the disturbing cases they filmed were:
- An elephant limping, possibly because of a broken leg
- An elephant forced at riflepoint to lie down
- A tiger being bottle-fed
- An orangutan trying to get away from a visitor and being pulled back
- An orangutan frustrated by being caged
- People lifting a turtle by its shell
- Macaques chained at the neck
Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest growing travel destinations, and the country’s government is pushing the industry hard, with the aim of doubling visitor numbers to 20 million by 2019.
Bali is increasingly popular with British holidaymakers, with a 14 per cent increase in numbers last year to 243,000, making them the fifth most numerous tourists in the country. Visitors often include couples getting married or honeymooners wanting a taste of the exotic.
Swimming with dolphins, elephant rides, taking selfies with orangutans and circus-style animal shows are all rising in popularity, but campaigners are calling on them to boycott Bali’s attractions featuring captive animals.
The report, entitled Wildlife Abusement Parks, reveals how orangutans, tigers, civets and even young lions were kept in filthy, cramped conditions with concrete floors, and deprived of food before shows to force them to carry out “tricks” for entertainment.
Orangutans used for tourists’ selfies had no “freedom of movement, opportunities for social interaction or stimulating activities”.
Elephants that had suffered a “cruel and intensive” training process that involves severe pain were used for giving rides. The study says: “Tourists who enjoy interacting with captive wild elephants, or watching them perform seemingly harmless acts such as painting are not aware of the severe suffering that lies beneath.”
The highly traumatic experience will stay with the elephant for ever, it says, adding: “Many tourists incorrectly presume that elephants are docile animals, a story which many elephant entertainment venues are keen to spread. These ‘gentle giants’, however, are one of the most dangerous wild animals to handle. The number of people severely injured by captive wild elephants is estimated to be the highest rate among captive wild animals used by people.”
Many elephants at Bali’s tourist venues displayed abnormal repetitive behaviour – including swaying and foot-shuffling – a sign of distress and suffering.
Ms Vitali said: “Our research shows many people go to animal spectacles because they’re interested in animals and out of love for animals, but the vast majority are unaware of the welfare violations behind these places.
“Many venues portray themselves as sanctuaries when really they’re exploiting animals.
“The websites of some of these places talk about a resident herd of elephants living peacefully, which looks idyllic but what you don’t see is the elephants are chained, placed in a field without food, water, shade or chance to communicate – the opposite of in the wild where they have close family structures.
“No one wants to think in the background of their wedding photos is a herd of suffering animals.”
Steve McIvor, chief executive of World Animal Protection, said: “It’s a tragedy that Bali, such a beautiful destination for tourists, forces its captive wild animals to endure such grotesque and horrific conditions.
“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 for hours on end.”
The Balinese economy relies on its millions of tourists, he said. “Sadly, until Bali improves animal welfare at these dreadful venues, World Animal Protection is urging UK tourists to avoid them.
“We’d also encourage holidaymakers to boycott the travel companies that promote and support these appalling establishments.”
The Independent has asked the Bali Tourism Board to comment.
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