It must be an amazing experience to sit on top of this 2,7 m high giant, look down on the world and move slowly through the jungle. That’s how the old explorers did it, that’s what great travel tales are made of, right? No, unfortunately not. This is what a tale of animal abuse and cruelty is made of. Let us explain to you, why you should not ride an elephant.
The population of wild elephants is rapidly declining – one factor of many is the illegal capture for tourism. And there is no Asian Robert Redford who plays the elephant whisperer with a lot of patience and tenderness. The taming is a cruel process, starting when the elephants are not more than babies. They are separated from their mother way too early, forced into cages where they can’t move or bound between trees and beaten while they are helpless, all to break them and tame them, so they can be used as draft and pack animals, and of course to entertain tourists.
But the beating and stabbing with hooks doesn’t stop. Also grown elephants are constantly reminded with a bullhook of what cruelties humans are possible.
Another problem is, that elephant spines are just not made for carrying the human weight. Looking at the size of an elephant most people don’t even remotely consider this factor. How should an animal of 3 tons not be able to carry a tiny human? You have also to take into account the heavy saddle, often one elephant carries two tourists and don’t forget the mahout on the elephant’s neck. All this weight causes the elephants pain and in the long term it can lead to serious spine injuries and deformations. Also the animals are rarely treated appropriately. They are often chained up too tight and get neither sufficient food nor water.
The taming and breaking of elephants is a century old tradition in Thailand as well as in many other Southeast Asian countries and it is hard to break old habits. Today most of this elephants are used in tourism, so it is within your power to stop the mistreatment of the animals. It might be hard to deny yourself an elephant ride, when you see all the other tourists having a good time on their back, but it will be the right choice.
And if you still want some interaction with elephants after all, you don’t have to go on a Safari in Kenya, to watch them in the wild. Why not visit one of Thailand’s elephant sanctuaries that take care of old and abused elephants? A good example of a responsible institution is Elephants World in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi region. It is a place, where the animals experience more love and care within one week than they have experienced in their whole lives.
Visitors at Elephants World can spend a whole day with the soft, grey giants. They watch them play, rest and roam around freely. Here the visitors serve the elephants, so they are recruited to smash and cut the huge amounts of fruit needed for the elephants’ lunch. The highlight of the day is when all are having a water splashing battle in the nearby river together, during the elephants’ daily bath.
For the really motivated ones: many of these sanctuaries are looking for volunteer to help them with their day to day world. Wouldn’t that be a great adventure?
One can argue, if animals are able to express their feelings with their facial expressions or not, but after a visit in that kind of responsible elephant park, you’ll be quite convinced that at least elephants can smile.