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9 Reasons to Say No To An Elephant Ride

June 11th 2023

Tagged: Elephants, Ethical Volunteering, Sustainable Travel, Thailand, Volunteering Abroad, Wildlife

How to Help Elephants in Thailand

Elephants are magnificent, gentle giants who have captured our hearts with their intelligence. Many people are enamoured with elephants, and for some, signing up for a tour to get close to them looks like the obvious choice. But when it comes to elephant riding, especially in popular tourist spots like Thailand, it is essential to remember that these majestic creatures deserve respect and freedom.

elephant under treeVolunteer in Thailand | WorkingAbroad

Here are nine reasons to say no to an elephant ride and alternative ways to engage with and support them ethically.

1. The Breaking-In Process Is Cruel

The ethical concerns surrounding elephant riding begin at the breaking-in process. During this training process, known as “the crush” or Phajaan, painful methods are equipped to break an elephant’s spirit and force submission. This harsh treatment often includes physical abuse, starvation, and confinement. Unfortunately, your quintessential Thailand elephant ride may come at an enormous cost to the animal. 

2. It Damages Elephants’ Health 

Elephant riding has profound health implications for these magnificent animals. The constant bearing of heavyweights, including the howdah (seat for riders) and the riders themselves, can result in severe spinal injuries and deformities. Contrary to common belief, an elephant’s spine is not designed to carry heavy loads, and continual strain and injuries may lead to chronic health issues, significantly reducing the quality of life for these elephants.

3. Mother and Baby Elephants Are Harshly Separated

The tourism demand for elephant rides often leads to the traumatic separation of baby elephants from their mothers. Once separated, these young animals are subjected to the cruel training methods outlined above to prepare them for a life of servitude. Consider the long-term emotional and psychological effects this separation and subsequent trauma have on the mother and the baby elephant.

Volunteer watching elephant by the river in ThailandVolunteer with Elephants | Volunteer Thailand | Working Abroad

4. Elephants Are Overworked and Undernourished 

In the riding industry, elephants work long, gruelling hours, often under the blazing sun. Working tirelessly without adequate rest, proper nourishment or enough water has severe implications for the health of these gentle giants. When put to work, elephants’ natural behaviours are heavily restricted, and their physical needs are ignored. Even when they are resting, many elephants remain chained and constricted.

6. Elephants in Captivity Don’t Live As Long 

Evidence shared by World Animal Protection shows that elephants who live in captivity have a drastically reduced lifespan compared to those living in the wild. Chronic stress, inadequate living conditions, and improper diet in captivity contribute to their premature deaths. Boycotting elephant rides contributes to efforts that help elephants live longer, healthier lives.

7. Captivity Disrupts Their Natural Behaviour 

Elephants are highly social animals with complex behaviours and communication systems. However, those used in tourism often don’t get to interact naturally with other elephants, negatively impacting their mental health. Choosing not to ride elephants supports the preservation of their natural social structures, allowing elephants to interact freely and naturally.

8. Elephants Suffer In Inadequate Living Conditions 

The riding camps where elephants live often leave them in cramped and unsanitary conditions. This confined environment lacks the elements necessary for their physical and mental stimulation, leading to poor quality of life. By saying no to riding elephants in Thailand, you can advocate for their right to live in natural, spacious habitats where they can thrive.

9. There Are Ethical Alternatives to Elephant Riding 

You can get close to elephants without harming them! Ethical alternatives to riding elephants in Thailand include visits to elephant sanctuaries that provide a natural and safe environment for the animals to live and thrive. Opt for these alternatives to directly contribute to initiatives that protect and conserve elephants while experiencing their beauty from a respectful distance.

Elephant eye closeupWildlife Volunteering India | WorkingAbroad

Your Influence Matters 

As a tourist, your decisions have a significant impact. When you choose not to participate in elephant rides, you send a strong message to the industry, potentially influencing a shift towards more ethical practices. Your decision to help protect elephants can contribute to the greater global effort towards their conservation and well-being. By educating others about these issues, you can multiply this positive impact, making a real difference in the lives of elephants.

So, you may be wondering, where can you ride an elephant? The answer is simple: nowhere. Elephants are not designed for riding. But don’t be disheartened. There are other, more ethical ways to interact with elephants when visiting Thailand.

Alternative Ways to Engage with Elephants in Thailand

We offer ethical alternatives, working with elephant sanctuaries in Thailand that protect instead of harming the elephants. At these sanctuaries, such as the Thailand Elephant Volunteer Project, and the Karen hill tribe village project, you can interact with elephants in their natural habitat while also learning about their behaviour, their importance to the ecosystem, and the issues they face. The sanctuaries offer a safe haven where elephants can retire peacefully and roam freely.

Say no to riding an elephant in Thailand to protect the elephants while promoting ethical tourism. Choose a conscientious alternative to elephant riding to put the animals first and enjoy your backpacking trip or holiday guilt-free. By standing on the right side of history, you will make a difference for elephants in Thailand, supporting their well-being and survival.

Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Tamsin Appleton

About the Author

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