Elephant riding is a big tourist attraction in many Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. It seems to be on everyone’s bucket list when they go to visit any of these places, but do they really know the truth about it? Most people probably don’t.
It’s mentally and physically bad for elephants. They will have been trained from a young age to allow humans on their backs and to interact with them. The process to achieve this is horrifying. The trainers will break the elephants spirit in a method known as ‘the crush’. The men will first have to buy or capture the baby elephant, the latter will probably involve killing the elephants that protect the calf and selling their body parts. Once they have the baby elephant they will beat it and frighten it over a duration of days, to ready it for the tourist industry. There are some other ways to capture and train elephants for the tourist industry, all of them brutal. Men will use chains and hooks to control the elephants and in some cases the elephants will attack their trainers, which are known as mahouts. The method of developing a fear of the mahout in the elephant by beating it, is often the cause of elephants lashing out.
Many elephants will also collapse and die of exhaustion due to working everyday, trudging along hot roads, dehydrated and without veterinary care. Despite their great size, elephants are not made to carry our weight. It is bad for their spines and will wear down the tissue and bones on an elephants back. Plus the chair that tourists will sit on can damage their skin. Being poked and prodded with hooks will not help either. Elephants are also often used in ceremonies or parades, as we saw in Sri Lanka, with their legs and necks chained and shackled, men with sticks on either side of them, loud noises surrounding them and people or temples balanced on top of them. They may be treated well after the celebrations but it is still bad for their health, especially if it is a yearly or monthly occurrence.
Of course it’s not just captive elephants that are suffering. Wild elephants habitats are fading due to logging, being cleared for crops and houses, and ultimately the growth of the human population. They are also being poached for their ivory, meat and body parts or captured to preform or be trained to be ridden. Asian elephants are an endangered species, with more than 100,000 around the turn of the last century halving to around 35,000-40,000 wild Asian elephants. The African elephant population is also decreasing, from a few million at the start of the twentieth century to between 450,000-700,000. So we need to start doing everything we can to help save these beauties and their homes. And that starts with protecting their habitats, discouraging riding and performances, and use of them in ceremonies or parades.
Even if your not going to ride elephants and simply want to play, bath and feed them, be cautious of where you choose to go. Many of the elephants will most likely be treated similarly to accept the company of humans. Sometimes just observing them in the wild might be best but make sure you pick a tour, wildlife park or safari that respects the creatures by not allowing many vehicles into the park and has restrictions of how close you can get. Many people who go riding or pay to see them preform say its because they love the animals. Well if you really do love them, then PLEASE DON’T RIDE THEM!!!
Written by Kasha, age 13. All photos are our own.