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Warning over treatment of Asian elephants

An animal protection group is warning tourists the elephant they are thinking about riding while on holiday in Thailand is probably a miserable victim of abuse.

London-based World Animal Protection looked at almost 3000 elephants working at entertainment venues in six Asian nations and found three out of four of the animals are living in poor and unacceptable conditions.

It cited being chained day and night when not working, receiving inadequate diets and unsatisfactory veterinary care, as well as undergoing harsh initial training, "that breaks their spirits and makes them submissive enough to give rides and perform".

The group wants tourists to be aware and counsels tour agencies to shun abusive venues, among other measures.

It says it has already convinced more than 160 travel companies to stop sales and promotion of venues offering elephant rides and shows.

The report the group released on Thursday is part of a broader campaign by World Animal Protection, which has also sought to expose the living conditions of other animals used to entertain, including tigers, macaques and bears.

"If you can ride, hug or interact with wild animals, chances are there's cruelty involved," said Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, WAP's global wildlife and veterinary adviser and author of the elephant report.

"The cruel trend of elephants used for rides and shows is growing," Schmidt-Burbach said.

"We want tourists to know that many of these elephants are taken from their mothers as babies, forced to endure harsh training and suffer poor living conditions throughout their life."

The report surveys elephants in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India but identifies Thailand as the home of three-quarters of all elephants kept in captivity for entertainment purposes.

Thailand's first animal cruelty law took effect in December 2015, carrying up to two years in prison for torturing animals, but elephants are not covered by that law nor by a separate one on wild animals.

"Elephants used in shows are considered a means of transportation," said Thiradech Palasuwan, an officer of the Thai government's Wildlife Conservative Office.

"They belong to elephant camps and are not under the supervision of the department. Elephant camps do not need permission to use elephants for shows. This is an area where there are no regulations yet."

© AP 2017