Going on an elephant ride is a popular tourist activity, easily available in Thailand, Cambodia, India and across parts of Asia as well as some parts of Africa. Many people put elephant rides at the top of their bucket list but by going on an elephant ride, you are very likely to be contributing to a circle of animal cruelty.

Elephants that are trained for tourism purposes such as trekking, dancing or any activity that has no basis in their natural behaviour, are often mistreated and harshly trained.

Captive elephants are sometimes referred to as domestic elephants however this term is misleading as elephants have never truly been domesticated. They are still wild animals and it is difficult to provide adequate conditions for them in captivity. Unlike many other species, elephants die younger in captivity than in the wild.

Controlling the worlds largest land mammal

More often than not, it is fear that is used to make a large, wild animal like an elephant compliant and able to be controlled by humans. They can be deprived of food and sleep, are subjected to regular beatings and are placed in physical restraints.

A long-time tradition in the Thai culture, the Phajaan or crush, is the training method elephants undergo to become a part of the tourism industry. As young elephants, they are torn from their mothers and entrapped in a small confine, then ritualistically abused with bull hooks and bamboo sticks spiked with nails, as well as starved, deprived of sleep and worse, to crush their spirits and become submissive to humans. – Right Tourism

In Thailand and other parts of Asia, the Phajaan is the accepted method of training and it is likely that every elephant used in trekking or for entertainment purposes has suffered this treatment.

The sad fact is that tourism has now turned elephants into a lucrative business – a “crushed” baby can be worth tens of thousands of pounds. – Responsible Travel

The increase in elephant trekking and responsible alternatives

The traditional role of elephants in industry has mostly ended mainly due to logging restrictions. This has caused huge problems for the mahouts who have had to find an alternative way to pay for the care and upkeep of an animal that can consume up to 200 Kg of food a day. This is why many mahouts have turned to tourism via trekking, rides and entertainment.

These elephants cannot simply be returned to the wild, to begin with there is not enough natural habitat left to house them all. This however is not an an argument to support the use of elephants for trekking or entertainment. Instead if you want to interact with elephants, do it responsibly through an elephant sanctuary or conservation project where the elephants welfare is the top priority, not your entertainment.

If you love elephants then don’t support cruelty towards them. Visit one of the organisations listed below, you will learn far more about these amazing creatures, have a better time with no regrets and you’ll be contributing to elephant conservation! Also check out EARS – the Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival foundation.