The Last Tourist documentary exposes cruelty in the animal entertainment industry


The Last Tourist documentary includes footage of elephant training in Thailand. Photo credit: The Last Tourist.

A new documentary exposes the negative effects of tourism, including the horrific treatment of animals used in entertainment.


The Last Tourist is an independent documentary directed by filmmaker Tyson Sadler and executive produced by Bruce Poon Tip. Sadler told Travel Industry Today that the purpose of the documentary is to “pull back the curtain and show us the true cost of travel on the environment, wildlife, and host communities.”


More than 500,000 animals are suffering around the world for different tourist attractions, according to The Last Tourist. The documentary includes interviews with a number of conservationists including Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, Founder of Save Elephant Foundation in Chiang Mai, Thailand.


Lek said the only way to train elephants to be used in the tourism industry is to separate the baby elephants from their mothers and to beat them in a process called crushing. The film shows graphic footage of the elephant crushing process.


“Every day they will train the elephant and beat them and let them know the hook,” Lek said in the documentary. She said the crushing process can take days or weeks.


Crushing makes the elephants compliant while tourists ride on their backs or while their trainers make them perform tricks.


“Some elephants…they tie their trunks onto the poles,” Lek said. “When I asked, ‘Why do you tie their trunk?’ The man who trains the elephants said, ‘We have to tie their trunks because otherwise the elephants kill themselves.’ I ask, how do they kill themselves? ‘By biting their own trunks to lose blood.’”


World Animal Protection Campaign Director Melissa Matlow said that tourists are often unaware that these tourist attractions harm animals.


“Our research shows that the people who are buying tickets to these wildlife attractions are wildlife lovers and they have no idea that they’re harming the very animals they care about,” she said.


Matlow said that the abuse of elephants isn’t only happening in foreign countries.


“Any elephant that’s forced to give tourists rides or perform circus-like tricks for them was beaten into submission,” she said, adding that many captive elephants experience post traumatic stress disorder and exhibit stereotypical behaviors, a condition referred to as zoochosis, which is only seen in captive animals.


Primatologist Jane Goodall was also interviewed in the documentary.


“It’s the same with a chimpanzee or a gorilla or an orangutan or a monkey and lions and tigers; they become psychotic,” Goodall said. “They show very abnormal behavior, pacing back and forth and in the end will become deeply depressed and just withdraw into him or herself just like a person would.”


The documentary features footage from Elephant Nature Park, the sanctuary that Lek directs which rescues elephants from the tourism industry.


“We don’t train them with the crush, but we train them with love,” Lek said.


The elephants at the park are cared for by elephant trainers from the tourism industry who are educated on the humane care of elephants without the use of hooks. Some of the proceeds from Elephant Nature Park have been used to build a library, a hospital, and to contribute to local poverty alleviation, according to the documentary.


“You can as a tourist feel good about supporting these venues and seeing elephants in proper sanctuaries,” Matlow said. “Those people are leading the way in helping us shift this change in tourism demand.”


The Last Tourist is available for streaming on Hoopla and Kanopy and is available for rent or purchase on iTunes.