Bali is not short on wildlife as I’ve now had a chance to witness it in water and on land. In a country so focused on growing its tourism industry and so rich in animal life, I sometimes worry how one affects the other. Two stops I made while staying in Ubud were the Monkey Forest in the middle of town and the Elephant Safari Park just 30 minutes away. Both were spectacular in the sense of how close I could get to the animals and how relatively unrestrained the animals were as far as cages and enclosures are concerned.
I took issue with how the tourists treated the monkeys occasionally trying to excite them in various ways. Then, people are surprised when the monkeys act aggressively in return. More than aggressive, the monkeys behavior can best be described in this scenario as protective. For example, we should not be handing monkeys a water bottle to see what they do with it. That all said, the monkeys were completely unrestrained and were roaming around every path and in every tree.
In the Elephant Safari Park, the elephant caretakers and trainers all treated the elephants with complete respect; however, training a creature with the intelligence to dunk a basketball, paint, and raise a flag up a flag pole to do exactly those things feels like taking advantage of the animal. I loved watching an elephant use his trunk to slam home a basketball, especially as I am currently going through March Madness withdrawal, but I also recognized if the elephant can do those activities, what is the elephant thinking when asked for example to carry us on its back. I loved feeding the elephant, being hugged by the elephant, and shaking hands with its trunk, but all the while I felt a twinge of guilt. The Safari Park said that it rescued these elephants, and that knowledge taken at face value makes me feel better about the operation.
Experiencing these animals so intimately was a rare and fun opportunity, and I believe it raises awareness of their intelligence and grace.