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).
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.
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 too..it’s simply not sustainable.
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:
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:
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.
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.
Asian elephants are endangered and the number of them in the wild is sadly low and continuing to decline!