Please don’t hate me; I rode an elephant in Thailand. I debated for weeks whether to write this for fear of criticism, but it’s important to speak up for the voiceless. Many believe that this classic experience should be removed from your bucket list along with cuddling tigers. Well, your opinion is slightly irrelephant (hardy har). All jokes aside, we all know by now that I am a huge animal lover and would never want to do harm to these precious creatures.While it was quite the adventure to sit atop a massive 2-ton beast while traipsing through lush jungle, in hindsight, it was an experience I very well should have said no to. I hate to admit, but it’s due to my own lack of awareness in their treatment. I failed to do my research and it wasn’t until hate comments on my instagram that I realised the true impact of my hour self-indulgent fun. Why is it that these beautiful and gentle animals are tortured and abused, for the entertainment of tourists invading their land?Brutal elephant training has been a traditional practice in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years. Asian elephants are already highly endangered as is. It’s our demand for elephant rides and circus acts that leads to more baby elephants getting captured from their mothers, tortured, and sold off to entertain. The initial training of elephants for entertainment of tourists is extremely cruel, beginning with a common ritual of ‘Crushing‘ a baby elephant’s spirit or ‘Phajaan’ so that they are taught to be submissive to humans. When young wild elephants are poached, their family will be killed right in front of their eyes.Many of the activities they are later forced to do for tourists are physically and mentally damaging. Conditions can be terrible, chaining up so they have limited ability to move, isolation from other elephants, poor diet, and lack of veterinary care. In the rides, use of hooks to control the elephant and saddles may be left on their backs all day without cushioning. But good news! There are safer alternatives out there of sanctuaries that care for the elephant’s health, feeding, hygiene, and reproduction. These are safe havens from poachers, circus-owners, and illegal loggers which are commonplace in Thailand.
What can you do to help elephant welfare?
- Share your new understanding of appropriate elephant welfare.
- Ask yourself these questions when visiting an elephant venue:
• Are the animals free to move without restraint when not used for tourists? Can they interact with other animals on their own terms?
• Are the animals healthy and without wounds and not showing any behavioural problems? Do the animals seem calm but not apathetic? No signs of abuse or distress in the animals.
• Are the animals housed in a natural environment? Is the area kept clean?
• Is fresh food and water available at all times? Can the animals forage natural food?
- Don’t ride elephants or patronise shows where the elephants are made to perform unnatural or human-like activities.
- Do your research and choose an ethical venue to explore these creatures.
Gettin a little frisky bud. I am clearly the great elephant whisperer, continuing to make friends with the local wherever I go.If you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia in the near future, please make a more informed decision with responsible elephant sanctuaries. In the days of climate change and other human induced footprints, it is crucial that we continue to protect this beautiful world we are blessed with, living together as nature intended.