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Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants in Thailand

couples coordinates why you shouldn't ride elephants in thailand elephant nature park chiang mai

Since the time of Hannibal or perhaps even before, there has been something alluring about riding elephants. Over the centuries these animals have been subjugated to being weaponized in war, put in circuses, and being held prisoner by organizations that want to make money by selling a chance to ride on an elephant. The rise of Instagram and other social platforms have travelers on a competitive mission. Why post a photo in Thailand just on a beach or next to an elephant when you can post a photo riding an elephant? Well, there are a number of reasons why you shouldn’t ride elephants in Thailand (or anywhere else for that matter).

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Elephants are just giant puppies

Watch an elephant play. Watch it interact with its babies, family members, or friends. Elephants are giant puppies that experience joy and happiness just as much as they can experience sadness and tremendous anxiety when abused. They’re incredibly intelligent and gentle creatures who just want some love.

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Riding elephants hurts them

It’s hard to conceptualize the fact that riding elephants is bad for their spines, isn’t it? They’re HUGE creatures and you’re well, maybe a 100 lb girl? How in the world could you possibly hurt them? Well, even 100 lbs would be strenuous for an elephant’s spine. They are simply not designed to carry humans or large, heavy objects. Plus, while you may only weigh 100 lbs, this about Bubba who weighs 300 lbs and wants to visit Thailand to ride an elephant’s simply not sustainable.

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Training elephants essentially requires torture

Elephants are tortured in many ways in order to “break” them and ensure they accept training. It is the dark side of Pavlov’s classical condition and not a simple command and reward system like when you train a dog. No one is saying, “Sit! Paint!” etc. to an elephant and then rewarding them with a treat. They’re chaining them to trees to break their spirit, stabbing their ears with nails, and whipping them to ensure they submit and do what they’re told.

From the time they are babies, the elephant must be tortured to be adequately trained for show or for the programs where they are ridden by travelers. Some of the barbaric training techniques are:

  • Phajaan – Elephant crushing – Baby elephants are ripped away from their parents in this domestication technique, often requiring the elephant to be caged and beaten to train him or her. The premise is negative reinforcement and classical conditioning. Elephants can be tied up, beaten with clubs, and pierced with bullhooks. Worst, perhaps, they will be sleep-deprived and starved for days. Sometimes they will even be put in a hole where they can’t move for days. What sick person came up with these elephant torture practices?
  • Bull hooks – these are used throughout the life of the show elephant as trainers stab them and pierce their ears to reinforce training
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Meet Happy, our favorite 60-year-old female elephant at Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park is essentially an elephant retirement community tucked into the hills and jungle of Chiang Mai. It is the personification of the mission of the Save Elephant Foundation, a Thai non–profit organization dedicated to providing care and assistance to Thailand’s captive elephant population through a multifaceted approach involving local community outreach, rescue and rehabilitation programs, and educational ecotourism operations. According to their website, they aim to:

  • to expand self-sustaining eco-tourism operations that benefit local communities and ecosystems
  • to better incorporate our efforts into local communities and to ensure their benefit through our continuing operation
  • to become a leader in the field of Asian elephant research through academic outreach and education programs
  • to create practical, positive reinforcement-based elephant training and rehabilitation programs
  • to establish an international volunteer community that raises awareness to issues facing the Asian elephant
  • to more fully integrate with the global conservation community to facilitate dynamic cross-cultural networking

We had the opportunity to visit Elephant Nature Park and to feed, play, walk, and bathe elephants for a day. Walking with these gentle giants and having the opportunity to give them the love they deserve was one of the best experiences we have ever had traveling around the world. Even just feeding them was awe-inspiring. We were literally feeding them whole watermelons and whole bunches of bananas; rind and all! Each elephant ate about a laundry basket full of fruit – something they do multiple times each day.

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Elephant Nature Park rescues elephants

Circuses and the places that allow you to ride elephants are the concentration camps that Elephant Nature Park finds and rescues their elephants. It might seem “cool” to see an elephant painting with its tusk but think about the type of training that must have gone into that. In order to train an elephant to do a simple task like this, much pain and mental anxiety must be inflicted.

And it isn’t just circuses and places where are exploiting elephants for rides that Elephant Nature Park rescues elephants from, they rescue them from poachers who murder them for ivory, and hunters who kill them for “sport.” Sorry, but if you want to kill an elephant for “sport” you can fuck right off.

Elephant Nature Park Mission Statement

  1. Sanctuary for endangered species: We provide homes for these animals as well as contributing to their welfare and development.
  2. Rain Forest Restoration: One of the most exciting developments at the park is our program of tree planting the surrounding area. The ecological balance of plants and animals will be encouraged by the re-introduction of the rain forest. Some 25 acres of the mountainside will be planted every year for the first 5 years.
  3. Cultural Preservation: To maintain, as much as possible, the cultural integrity of the local community. By creating employment and purchasing agricultural products locally we are assisting the villagers in sustaining their distinct culture. Park managers are recruited locally to oversee the park’s progress.
  4. Visitors Education: To educate visitors, individuals, study groups, schools, and interested parties. Emphasis on the plight of the endangered local species will be presented in an entertaining and constructive manner. Future phases will include audio/visual equipment and other modern educational aids. It is anticipated that small conferences and workshops will be organized at the park.
  5. Act independently: of pressure groups and political movements that we consider contrary to the well being of the park and the creatures in its care.

Asian elephants are endangered and the number of them in the wild is sadly low and continuing to decline!

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