Hot Water for Elephants
Riding an elephant in Thailand on your bucket list? Re-think your list.
I like to think that any tourist planning to visit South East Asia and interact with animals would do some research into the type of establishment they are participating in and giving money too. Unfortunately the high number of tourists who ride elephants and visit tiger temples in Thailand every year suggests otherwise.
Making a Difference
I would love to see tourists taking responsibility for their actions. In the Western world, we are so lucky that we have the money and often the time to travel to places like South East Asia. When I first visited Thailand, I could find only TWO elephant sanctuaries that did not offer rides. Four years later there has been a burst in ‘no riding’ sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and it is thanks to the tourists who drive the demand for this. If there is no demand for elephant riding, then local Thai people will be encouraged to use their elephants in alternative tourist settings such as feeding and bathing with them.
Elephants are not made to carry items on their backs. The metal racks placed upon them during tourist rides does lasting damage and deforms the elephant’s back. Working elephants are subject to cruel and abusive ways of taming them known as ‘the crush’ in which elephants are tied up for days or weeks and violently abused until they will comply with the abusers’ commands. Many elephants are trained from an extremely young age which includes being separated from their mothers. Elephants are often blinded on purpose, as a blind elephant is that much easier to control. Large metal hooks are driven into wounds to force the elephant to turn left and right. The skin around the tusks is often hacked at in order to sell as much of the tusk as possible on the ivory black market.
Ideally these elephants would be rehabilitated and released into the wild. Unfortunately in Thailand this is often not possible, either the elephants rampage local farms, are too dependent on humans. or there is simply not enough jungle to realise them back into. Luckily Thai locals have set up sanctuaries such as Elephant Nature Park and Hug Elephant Sanctuary (two that I’ve personally visited!) to protect them, work with them and boost local tourism using them.
So here’s to the Thais and the tourists, changing the fate of elephants in Thailand little by little…
Links to sanctuaries visited:
Even better yet – head to Khao Yai National Park and see elephants in the wild!
What are your elephant experiences? Any other ethical places to recommend?