Before Phuket, I was naively excited and eager to sit atop elephants. It was number one on my list of activities in Thailand. I would look at photos and read stories about the different experiences people have riding them. Some were positive, most were negative.
Elephants are everywhere in Thailand. It is a symbol of this country. The Thai people have a long standing history with them, as beasts of burden and in battle. When this need no longer existed, the “domesticated” trained elephants and their handlers had nothing to do and no where to go. Then came the tourism industry providing the handlers and their elephants with job security. If this helped them with income and jobs, how come elephant riding as a form of tourist activity is discouraged now?
It is in the way the elephants are being trained. They start training them when they are only babies, taken away from their mothers. It is a horrible and painful process. Can you say “inhumane” when talking about animals?
As I was trying to understand more about the ethical issues involved in elephant riding, I came across these two posts. They both are for the protection of elephants but one is against riding them completely while the other is only against the use of the trekking chairs.
Click on links below to learn more.
Unfortunately, the city tour package that we took while in Phuket included an elephant trekking experience. I don’t even know the name of the company that offered the rides.
The elephants, to me, looked sad and lethargic. There was a baby elephant tied to a chain on the ground. He didn’t look happy either. Some of them also looked sickly.
When we were on top of the elephant sitting on a trekking chair with the handler in front by its neck, I swear that was the first time I ever participated in a travel activity that I wasn’t too excited about. I felt so guilty. Looking at my touristy-say-cheese photos taken by my brother only adds to my guiltiness.
The minute I saw the handlers’ hooks and how they “prodded” the elephants’ heads or ears with it, I couldn’t wait for the ride to be over. It wasn’t even considered a trek as it was just mostly around their backyard walking around in circles, with the elephants stopping most of the time to eat or I do not know what else they were waiting for.
Now there are hundreds of elephant tours or elephant reserves all over Thailand. Not all of them mistreat and mishandle their animals. You just have to do your research diligently. You can either go all out and be against riding elephants completely or be selective with the kind of company you go for, the kind that treats their animals with love and respect. If you still want to interact with these creatures and not ride them, there are many elephant reserves that offer you the opportunity to feed and bathe them, watch them roaming freely in their natural habitat.
This particular tour just reeks of blatant disregard for the elephants’ well being and only concerned about tourist dollars.
Don’t say I wasn’t warned because I have been, but I refused to listen and let my eager adventurous self win. Pretty selfish, I could say, looking back at it.
Never again. And I hope you won’t make the same mistake too.
(Some of the photos used in this post are my brother’s. Thanks dong!)