Here in Bali animals form a large part of the tourist entertainment. You can hold an orangutun, eat dinner next to lions, and wash an elephant. The pamphlets that fill every tourist tour booth definitely give the message that these are respectable zoos and are about protecting and championing wildlife.
Yesterday I was considering whether to pay for the awesome opportunity to get up and personal with elephants, and in my mind I thought that the fact that they make the elephants perform once a day, was a small price to pay for their sanctuary. However, I started to doubt myself, and decided to have a google.
The Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) clearly states that there are no ethical ways to view elephants in Bali, they are not wild here, and by visiting you are encouraging a trade that is cruel. Elephants are simply too smart and intelligent to have to tolerate these acts, and therefore I won't be visiting any elephant parks.
I'm disappointed, as of course the chance to wash an elephant sounds amazing, but who cares right?
I once visited an elephant sanctuary (an actual sanctuary who rehabilitated elephants back into the wild) which was pretty incredible. 9 years ago I volunteered in Kenya, and had the chance to get pretty up close and personal with some rescued elephants:
These babies were orphaned after their mothers were killed by poachers, and the only performing for tourists they do is playing their regular game of football and playing in a paddling pool. The keepers explained that they had to be played with to distract them from their grief. They carefully ensure the elephants don't become too attached to humans, so that they can be introduced to a new family in the wild.
Elephants form complex relationships, and on top of often burying their dead and returning to the grave years later, they've also been known to hide tusks of dead elephants (as they know they get stolen).
This sanctuary has keepers with supervising the babies 24/7/365, on 3 hour shifts to prevent an attachment to one particular keeper. Once an elephant was used to one keeper, and when the keeper went away for a week, it died as it refused to eat.
I also went on safari and saw some elephants in the wild. Blimey they were huge, and I recall feeling very anxious.
Elephants deserve better than being made to perform for us. Don't buy a ticket, don't support the industry, don't encourage cruelty. So I won't be washing an elephant in Bali.