Elephants are majestic creatures that are revered around the world for their intelligence, social behavior, and sheer size. However, many tourists who visit countries like Thailand, India, and Sri Lanka are drawn to the idea of riding elephants as a thrilling and unfamiliar experience.
Unfortunately, the truth is that these rides can cause serious damage to elephants’ bodies, leading to long-term health problems and suffering.
The Wildlife Friends Foundation in Thailand (WFFT) has shared a photograph highlighting the harm caused to elephants by tourist rides. The image shows Pai Lin, a 71-year-old female who spent 25 years in the tourism industry carrying up to six people at a time.
As a result, Pai Lin’s spine has become disfigured and her back bears scars from old pressure points. The WFFT warns that the continuous pressure on elephants’ bodies can cause irreversible physical damage to their spines, as their bodies are not designed for riding.
Activists argue that elephant rides are a form of animal cruelty, and these animals are often exploited in other industries like trekking and logging, leading to exhaustion, malnutrition, and even death.
Pai Lin arrived at the WFFT sanctuary in 2006 after being retired from the Thai tourism industry, according to Edwin Wiek, director and founder of the WFFT.
The physical toll of Elephant rides
When tourists ride elephants, they typically sit on a platform or basket that is strapped to the animal’s back. The weight of the passengers, combined with the weight of the platform and any additional gear, can be a significant burden for an elephant to bear.
In fact, a study conducted by World Animal Protection found that elephants used for rides in Thailand are typically forced to carry a load that is three times their recommended weight limit.
The physical toll of carrying such a heavy load can be devastating for elephants’ bodies. The constant pressure and weight can cause painful sores and blisters to form on the elephant’s skin, which can become infected and lead to serious health issues.
Additionally, the stress of carrying such a heavy load can cause joint problems, particularly in the elephant’s spine and legs.
Psychological toll of Elephant rides
In addition to the physical damage caused by rides, there is also a psychological toll that cannot be ignored. Elephants are social animals that thrive on companionship and social interaction with other elephants.
When they are used for rides, they are often separated from their families and herds and forced to interact solely with humans. This isolation can cause extreme stress and anxiety, leading to behavioral issues such as aggression and depression.
Furthermore, the process of training elephants for rides can be incredibly cruel and traumatizing.
Many elephants used for rides are taken from the wild as calves and subjected to a brutal training process known as “breaking”.
This involves separating the calf from its mother, confining it in a small space, and using physical violence and intimidation to “break” its spirit and force it to obey humans. This process can take months or even years and can cause severe physical and psychological trauma.
Why we should avoid Elephant rides
Given the physical and psychological toll that elephant rides take on these majestic animals, it’s clear that we should avoid this activity at all costs. But beyond the ethical considerations, there are also practical reasons to steer clear of elephant rides.
For one, many of the elephants used for rides are not well-cared for, and their health and welfare is often neglected in favour of profit. This means that riders may be supporting an industry that is harming these animals and contributing to their suffering.
Additionally, there are plenty of other ways to experience elephants in a more ethical and sustainable way. For example, visitors can observe elephants in their natural habitats, learn about their behavior and biology from expert guides, and even participate in activities such as elephant bathing and feeding that are designed to promote the animals’ well-being.
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