Why you should never ride an elephant

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In Asia, there is a growing resentment amongst tourists towards riding elephants and for good reason. Read below just why you should never ride elephants, and what other activities there are that allow you to witness and enjoy these beautiful creatures. You will notice that mentioning elephant rides on social media provokes a furious backlash, but we hope to educate with our blog and the recommendations in this article.

Elephants are incredibly intelligent and sensitive animals. Elephants that were raised together when they were young and later separated recognize each other even decades later.

The sight of these sociable animals rejoicing after discovering their long-lost friends brings a lump to the throat of anyone who watches it happen.

A Cruel Beginning for a Working Elephant

Elephants have to be broken and trained in order to domesticate them into working animals.

It’s a barbaric rite of passage for young elephants destined to work for humans. It involves beating them into submission and pricking them with bull-hooks. After that, they are confined to where they’re practically immobile and subjected to mental and physical hardships for days on end, including starvation and sleep deprivation.  The desired goal is to totally break the animal’s spirit and the practice is effective.

Why Elephant Riding is Not a Sustainable Practice

In a bid to preserve the natural forests in the country, Thailand outlawed the logging industry years ago. So, the only alternative for the owners of these domesticated elephants was the tourism industry and elephant riding.

But, while the logging labor that elephants provided suited their physical build, attributes and strength, elephant riding does not. They’ve developed spinal problems as they just aren’t capable of carrying more than 150 kilograms on their backs for more than about half a day.

Unfortunately, Elephant safaris are a big business in Thailand. And, a business has to turn a profit. The care and feeding of the elephants gets expensive, as the elephants eat between 150-300 kilograms of food every day.

This means that the elephants are forced to work longer hours and it becomes a vicious cycle of having to earn enough money to maintain the business’s cash flow. As this cycle is never-ending, it becomes detrimental to the elephant’s long-term health and well-being.

A Bleak Outlook for Working Elephants

The ongoing practice of submitting the babies of these working elephants to ‘Phajaan’ is a problem as well. The strong bond between elephants means that the babies can’t be separated from their mothers. So, the babies are raised alongside their mothers and they are also turned into working elephants.

This perpetuates the domestication of elephants instead of bringing the practice to an end.  It’s only when the practice of elephant riding ends that the practice of ‘the crush’ can end along with it.

kids greeting a baby elephant at a free range compound
It's more fun to see Elephants when they are not chained up

The Rise of Elephant Sanctuaries

Fortunately, a growing number of organizations have realized that people don’t need to ride the elephants in order to appreciate them.

There are a growing number of elephant sanctuaries that recognize that allowing people to interact with elephants is a much more sustainable business model. It’s also a healthier alternative from both the human and the elephant’s perspective. So step by step, society is moving towards a tourist industry where people never ride elephants, which is great.

There are several awesome sanctuaries around Thailand. including:

Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary  in Sukothai

ElephantsWorld in Kanchanaburi

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand in Petchaburi

In Chiang Mai you can find the Elephant Jungle Paradise Park. It’s about 60 kilometers outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand and all guests are welcome by appointment. The offer half day and full day packages

A visit to an elephant sanctuary is not like taking a trip to the zoo. There are no hordes of tourists, tram cars touring the site or elephant shows to see.

There are only elephants, buffaloes, dogs up for adoption and small groups of visitors. The focus is on the elephant’s comfort and that’s why they limit the amount of visitors each day.

The visitors are encouraged to interact with the elephants in activities the elephants enjoy. You can feed them, bathe them in the river, or walk alongside them on hikes that take you through the valleys and hill country surrounding the sanctuary. Rest assured that you will never ride elephants at a true sanctuary, and you won’t want to, as there are plenty of interesting things to do and see besides being carried around.

You will also be educated in every aspect of elephant life you can imagine. You’ll learn about their anatomy, their natural behavior, their massive food requirements and even their gestation periods.

Supporting the Elephants

Even if you’re unable to visit these sanctuaries anytime soon, you can still support the conservation of elephants.

Elephants all over the world need your help to survive. The sanctuary organizations and a steadily growing army of volunteers are starting by increasing their projects in Southeast Asia and they need all the help they can get. By visiting their websites, you’ll learn about the projects that are underway and the ways that you can assist them in fulfilling their mission.  Let’s all pitch in to end the suffering and release the elephants from their chains.

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