Riding Elephants is Irresponsible Traveling

By Kim Flannigan

Did You Know…

Elephants are some of the most amazing animals in the world and are more like human beings than you may know. These magnificent creatures are capable of emotions such as love, anger, depression, mourning, empathy and joy. They have even been known to comfort their fellow pack members when another has suffered loss. What makes them even more special is how they care for their young and family members, it is a scene uncommon in much the animal kingdom.

For me, like most visitors to SE Asia, being able to spend time with them is a priority. However, after intensive research I know that I must be cautious when choosing where to do this. I am writing this post before my actual visit, with the hopes that others will know before they make the grave decision to visit the wrong type of elephant sanctuary. Although it may seem like a no-brainer for most, just as many are still participating in the misuse and mistreatment of elephants and are none the wiser.

Image provided by Pixbay. Baby elephant walking with mother, as their pack grazes behind them.

The Asian Elephant’s Tattered History

For a long time elephants have been exploited for labor and forced to become a tourist attraction in many parts of the world. In the past they have been used for logging, transportation, even in war practices, first by India and then quickly spreading to SE Asia, (Elephantry).

Everything mankind has done has contributed to them now being on the endangered species list and is a serious concern among SE Asians. Many people are demanding changes be implemented across the continent. Since these concerns have been addressed using elephants as loggers has been outlawed.

Image provided by Pixbay. Young Cambodia boy hugging an adult Elephants trunk.

Unfortunately, much of the damage has already taken its toll on the population. Not only were the elephants suffering physically and emotionally, they were also involuntarily destroying their own habitats. Additionally, putting many of these elephants out of a job. Being abandoned by caretakers they are forced into the life of entertainer, and guess what, tourism is a major influence.

It  is imperative that no matter how tempted you are to do it, riding on the back of an elephant is wrong on every level. As a humanitarian and advocate for all life forms, I feel like it is my obligation to inform you on what it takes to make these regal creatures allow humans to use them at will and how we can contribute to the future preservation and growth of these great beings. So please share this with as many folks as possible.

Image provided by Pixbay. Baby elephant curled up against chained leg of mother.

The Crush Or “Phajaan”

The process of breaking the spirit, training an elephant is more despicable than one would imagine. It begins with the capture.

Baby elephants are ripped from their packs in the wild and forced away from their families, even more horrific, they are witnesses to the slaying of any pack member that fights against to protect the baby. They are then transported to a torture training camp, where the process of “The Crush” begins. In Thailand, it’s called Phajaan, which translate to “break or tear apart” and there is a truly darker side to this “training” process.

Baby calves are caged, chained, tortured, refused water and food for days, and physically abused until they submit to the will of their trainers. The cages are made of wood and constructed purposely unsuitably sized for the baby eli. The goal is to prevent rest so to tire the little guy to a point of exhaustion. Traumatized, confused and emotionally defeated, the young-lings are continuously whipped and stabbed. Yes, stabbed by makeshift paddles with protruding nails, -in their heads, feet, trunks, ears and hind end.

All this so the youngster will stop crying for its mother, oh, and don’t forget for the pleasure of tourist.

Instagram photo ops and of course the likes and shares too. Every click, share, photo, cry warrants a painful bleeding blow. Once a calf has calmed, it is on to the next phase of training, as her legs, neck and trunk are tied with rope being pulled every which way by the trainer, they are being taught to sit and how to carry humans upon its back. I had planned on showing images that were sensitive, however, I just can’t look at them anymore, meanwhile, they are so disturbing I also don’t want to unwilling subject you them. Instead I have provided you with a 2-minute video and hope if you are brave enough to ride on the back of these gentle giants, then you should have no fear watching it what it takes.  I will warn you, it is graphic and truly heartbreaking. Be advised.


Now that you hate me for putting these images in your head, (sorry, not sorry), let’s talk about what we can do to make a positive experience for both you and the elephants. If you want to visit with tamed elephants, it is important to carefully examine the place in which you book your tour.

Image provided by Pixbay. Baby elephant bathing.

5 Tips For Eco Friendly Elephant Interaction

  1. Don’t visit places that offer elephant rides on chairs. Although eli’s are very strong, their spines are quite fragile and not as structurally sound as one may think. After years of trekking through jungle terrain with hundreds of extra pounds strapped to them every day, they start to lose form and become disfigured. This is tremendously painful and shortens their lifespan.
  2. Don’t visit places that have elephants perform tricks. We have all seen the painting elephant. That is a trained act. Elephants don’t naturally paint, perform tricks, or allow chairs and humans to be on them.
  3. Choose places that offer educational meet and greets before allowing interaction. The good organizations rescue elephants from these other places and will not use the elephants for profit but will use the profit for the care of them.
  4. Many of the eco-friendly establishments offer volunteering opportunities. You can visit for the day or do an overnight stay where you can learn, feed, bath and walk with an elephant. I have provided some really great links below where you can find where to visit and how to find volunteer work and programs.
  5. Finally, DO YOUR RESEARCH! I cannot stress this enough. Websites are great, but reviews are where it’s at. See what others are saying and research the place extensively through the areas news channels and other media.

As a longtime student of Cultural Anthropology, I think you should no that I have a strong tolerance for the diversity of seeming strange practices, so I understand that moral is a heavily based socially constructed character. However, the treatment of a living being that incurs physical and emotional anguish is not acceptable from any culture, in my book. I am not attempting to shame tourist, participants, I am only trying to educate those who are not in the know and hope to help make smarter humane decisions when traveling. Please, if you feel as though this is important, spread the word with everyone and anyone who will listen. The Asian Elephants survival depends on it…






Image provided by Pixbay. Pack of elephants and thier young walking into the sunset