As travelers, we want to be certain we’re supporting ethical travel experiences that won’t put wildlife at risk. That means avoiding activities like elephant rides – not considered responsible tourism and often harmful to elephants.
Riding an elephant for extended periods can result in permanent spine damage and other health complications, due to its vertebrae’s non-circular nature – they feature sharp bony ridges which respond easily to pressure applied via weight.
Riding elephants has become one of the most beloved tourist activities across Asia, enabling many countries to capitalize on this lucrative business by using these majestic creatures for trekking, rides and entertainment purposes.
However, many are now questioning the ethics of using elephants as tourist attractions and calling for their ban – this issue being particularly pertinent in Asia where many captive elephants have become endangered species.
To reduce elephant suffering, some camps have limited how much tourists can feed elephants, swapped out high-calorie treats with natural forage, and altered exhibits to encourage exploration and exercise. These measures form part of science-based welfare guidelines being created in Thailand. Furthermore, Thai veterinarians and researchers are working alongside tourist agencies and government organizations on regulations which promote maintenance of healthy populations that inform tourists about ethical venues – efforts which may eventually contribute to the reforestation of elephant habitats across Asia.
Elephant riding remains a popular tourist activity across Asia and Africa, however there are some important safety considerations you should be aware of before engaging in such activity. These include training methods used to prepare the elephants for this activity, their health issues during treks, as well as risks of getting hurt while riding one.
At an elephant camp, it is essential that guests choose one which provides bareback rides rather than platform riding, and permits only one person on an elephant at any one time. Doing otherwise could pose risks to both parties.
Select a camp with stringent weight restrictions for riders so as to protect the elephants from having to carry an excessive load, which could cause permanent spinal injuries and strain on their bodies.
If you are curious to gain more experience working with elephants, volunteering at a wildlife conservation center offers numerous opportunities. Understanding Asian elephants’ struggles as well as having direct experience working with these magnificent animals are both invaluable opportunities.
If you want to work with elephants, select a sanctuary that provides for their wellbeing and does not take part in tourist attractions or circus tricks. Also take care in researching their website and reading reviews before visiting.
Many elephants used for tourism are subjected to harsh training methods that involve the use of bullhooks to control them, as seen in this undercover video from World Animal Protection. Elephants learn quickly that human commands must always be obeyed without question. Unfortunately, this experience can be extremely painful and damaging – an elephant may feel powerless against human authority at any cost!
Animal-welfare groups strongly discourage riding elephants in howdahs crafted from an elephant’s trunk as this practice may cause pain, spinal damage and even death to these magnificent animals.
However, more venues are shifting away from the riding model in favor of providing visitors with opportunities to witness elephants at play in their natural environments. These “no-riding” elephant sanctuaries give tourists close contact with elephants without coercion; thus promoting their welfare.
ChangChill was opened in 2019 with assistance from World Animal Protection as the first venue in Chiang Mai to transition to an observation-only model. For day visits, guests hike through jungle-covered grounds to watch elephants roam freely on the property; those staying for full-day programs hike to caves and waterfalls before sharing herbal drinks with local mahouts while planting treats that the elephants will discover while foraging for food.
Chris is a passionate learner and writer. When he’s not working on his blog or learning something new, he’s a full-time systems administrator and father of two beautiful girls. Chris loves spending time with his family, reading, writing, and playing hockey.