The amazingly big and strong elephant, an extremely smart non-human animal with human-like features, a vegan by nature and the proud symbol of Thailand. But although amazing, our big friends mostly had, or are still having, a rough life. Elephant ‘abusement’ is still widespread, please read on and see how you can help.
Most people go to Thailand for it’s rich culture, the amazing food and to party or relax on the islands. And a big chance they will ignorantly end up on the back of an elephant, either far up in the jungly North or down at the beachy South.
While most of you readers might be vegan and the point I am going to make might be totally unnecessary, I’ll still share some knowledge I learned while working in an elephant sanctuary and doing some research on elephants. Sharing this message can’t be done enough!
If your dream is seeing an elephant in real life, try to go to an (more) ethical place or even do some elephant-spotting in the wild. Don’t go to trekking camps or a performance done by elephants and even be cautious with the nature safari’s and educational centers. Here is my short guide on how to see and experience elephants without the abuse and suffering of these wise and wonderful creatures.
The most popular (and infamous) nowadays are the trekking camps, which could be an enclosed area or just walking somewhere next to the road with tourists on top.
While a chair with tourists on the big back of an elephant might seem harmless, it is actually the opposite! The elephant is strong, but only around its neck and shoulder-area it can carry quite some weight (to hold up the heavy head and trunk). The back and spine are actually pretty fragile, so a heavy chair with two or even six(!) persons on it is way too heavy. Most trekking-elephants get a flat spine which then results in constant and everlasting pain. Put next to this a very limited and scarce diet and too much working-hours per day and you get a sick, weak and sad elephant. Is all this suffering really worth that single picture of you on an elephant?
Although never seen myself, performed shows still happen throughout Thailand (and other parts of the world). Elephants might play football, darts, paint, do acrobatic tricks and ride big bicycles. And all of this while wearing costumes!
Elephants mostly get the tricks they perform learned in a torturing way. The unnatural movements and acts are mostly to be taught by either a rewarding or punishing way. Unfortunately punishing, with its created fear, is mostly seen as the most efficient and cheapest way. But even if taught ‘ethically’, do we really want to see sentient beings doing very unnatural tricks solely for our pleasure?
SAFARIS AND EDUCATION CENTERS
While this option might sound better, you might still find the infamous chairs here, elephants could be being bred for financially sustainable reasons and the overall mentality towards animals could still be pretty different than ours. Please be cautious and do proper research.
SANCTUARIES AND WILD SPOTTING
Don’t put your elephant-dreams away yet! It wasn’t my intention to crush your big wish to see some of these amazing souls. In fact it’s the opposite of this; I can very much recommend checking out the elephants but please go to a sanctuary for this. Or try to find an ethical (and safe) way to spot some in the wild.
If you truly wish to see elephants in their natural habitat and showing natural behavior, try to go to a national park and join a ranger for some wild elephant spotting. If this gets popular, the national parks might expand and protection reinforced. Check out all the Thai National Parks, Wild Elephant Watching near Kui Buri , spot wild elephants in Khao Yai park (Read about MostlyAmelie’s experience) and check out the Forest Program of EW.
If you’d prefer a sanctuary, check out these other sanctuaries as well.
– Elephant Nature Park + Tripadvisor. Read about ENP at the blog of the traveling vegan couple MindfulWanderlust.
– Boon Lott + Tripadvisor
– Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand + Legit review
– ElephantsWorld + Tripadvisor + My volunteering experience
From what I’ve been told the sanctuaries might have some minor differences but their main goals are the same. Which is giving the mostly overworked elephants a lovely time for the rest of their lives and spreading awareness around the globe. Be a part of this and see if you can go to one of these places. They might be more expensive than the other activities but all of this has a obvious reason; taking good care of the biggest land animal isn’t cheap. Only if you underfed and abuse them!
If want to see elephants in another country, please do proper research. The above information is mostly about Thailand.
As a last note I want to add that I am not condemning the people that use (or even abuse) the elephants. For them it might be (cultural) blindspot (like the many carnists in our societies), simple ignorance, or it’s about earning enough money to keep their families alive. So it’s up to us to stop the demand for abusement like this (or get it banned) and create new jobs where elephants are treated how they should. In that case it’s a win-win!
Read more about the abuse behind the elephant rides on WorldAnimalProtection and AsiaForAnimals. Don’t forget to sign the petition of WAP and join more than 100.000 others!
And share this (satirical) video of WAP about the rides:
> This post is filled with stock photos since I (luckily) haven’t seen many of these practices in real life. If you think you got better images then I am more than happy to insert them and give you credits! :) I might add the red bars though, in that case any thumbnail/image found (on Google-images for example) is clear in disapproving these practices.