Riding Elephants on Your Holiday: The Truth Behind Scenes

Thought riding elephants on your holiday is a fun experience? You might want to think again. If you have any compassion towards elephants, the last thing you want to be doing is sponsoring this cruel tourist attraction.

People interested in animal rights are well aware of the unspeakable cruelty behind the scenes at elephant rides, but the continued existence of this industry shows that the information has not spread widely enough.

Beyond the deprivation of the fundamental right for freedom and not being enslaved, there is also a gruesome story of torture, loneliness and pain. If you feel like helping raise awareness, this article is meant as a helpful digest for people not aware of the subject.

The types of suffering inflicted on elephants used by the tourist industry fall into three categories: torture to domesticate baby elephants, torture to train adult elephants to perform tricks, and unhealthy and painful living conditions.

Domestication of Baby Elephants

Riding elephants ion your vacation

In the traditional Thai domestication ritual, still used today, baby elephants are repeatedly stabbed in their ears and feet on a daily basis, whilst kept in a tiny cage. Image: Shutterstock.

In the traditional Thai domestication ritual, still used today, baby elephants are repeatedly stabbed in their ears and feet on a daily basis, whilst kept in a tiny cage. Sleep-deprivation, starvation, removal from their mothers, and thirst are all used to break the animal’s spirit and ensure she obeys human commands.

This goes on for many weeks. Once the baby elephants have been made submissive, they need to be desensitized to loud noises  and surprises so that they don’t suddenly bolt and throw off their passengers. The calves are tied down before being subjected to a barrage of abuse such as being hit with sticks, having burning torches waved in their faces (which often singes their skin), and constant shouting and noise.

The next stage is to train the elephants how to perform the unnatural feats needed to entertain and carry tourists. An example: the creatures are trained to lift their feet on command so that they can be manoeuvred about. The training process involves shouting the command before stabbing at the animals’ legs with nails. Failure to obey these commands results in a beating.

Torturous Training

Trainers frequently pierce the animals’ sensitive ears and pull on them with hooks to force the elephants to walk with the proper technique. Restraints rimmed with nails are clamped around the animals’ feet, which results in wounds and infections. Spiked shackles are often wrapped around one leg whilst training an elephant. The shackle is linked up with the saddle, so that the rider can punish the elephant if she makes a mistake.

Inhumane Living Conditions

Elephant training for entertainment

The training process involves shouting the command before stabbing at the animals’ legs with nails. Failure to obey these commands results in a beating. Image: Shutterstock.

Even once the elephants have had their vigour and independence destroyed through torture, and had tricks and techniques beaten into them, the cruelty still continues. Because of the unnatural living conditions of these imprisoned elephants, they often suffer from arthritis and foot ailments.

Then there is the lack of social contact with other elephants – these intelligent creatures have a strong biological need to live in a herd, and scientists have long ago proved that intelligent animals are capable of suffering from stress and depression (if you work with animals you don’t need scientists to tell you this, you can tell simply by observing).

There are some within the industry who maintain that it is possible to train elephants based on a reward system rather than a torture based system, but the fact is that the vast majority (all?) of the elephants used for tourist rides in Asia have gone through unspeakable and unnecessary cruelty.

It is so important not to fund this industry, so spread the word: elephant rides are simply wrong.

Cover image: Shutterstock.

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Writer & Reviewer

I became interested in animal rights while studying philosophy and ethics at university. I do a lot of different jobs, including writing films. I've had one movie released in cinemas and have another script currently under option. When people assume I'm a hippie because of my vegan diet I fly into an apoplectic rage. In my spare time I play rugby, and I'm an active supporter of the Iranian dissidents in exile.

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