I have seen it several times, [Facebook] friends posting their travel photos from Thailand, merrily riding an elephant. As instagram-worthy one might think it is, there’s a great sacrifice for these creatures to be able to submit to this kind of labor. The world seems still unaware of the cruelty behind this. I recently Googled “Elephant Riding” to see a progress but sadly, those day tours still get 5 star ratings in popular travel review sites. It still is a popular tourist activity despite the sanctuaries built to save the elephants.
It is not just elephant riding, there are circuses where elephants paint on canvasses, and even on streets where they have to beg for their food. Their owner would take them out and sell bananas so that the elephants can eat. I once saw a mother and daughter elephant with eyes looking sad as they wait for tourists to feed them.
Call me a killjoy but I have to spread awareness that this is not right. I believe that it is also the lack of information or awareness that leads these tourists to such sites.
Why you should not consider including this in your bucket list...
ELEPHANT SPIRIT CRUSHING
I have wondered how a gigantic and wild animal would even submit to a smaller human. I encountered the term spirit crushing during my first visit in Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park. They have a room here where they let you watch a video of what happens in an Elephant spirit crushing. You can search this in YouTube but I have to warn you that it is depressing to watch.
Elephants are untamed by nature and they do not just submit to someone’s orders. But some cruel humans have found a brutal way to tame them.
The process is done by caging and chaining young elephants. The younger, the more effective it will be. They are left there with no food and water. When they are finally weak, they are beaten with rods and sticks while they are helplessly locked in the cage. In other words, it is torture.
This process results in trauma and they become submissive to their master. From here, they are trained to do whatever job is given to them. There are elephants that paint, take tourists for a ride, and those who carry big logs.
They are Massive but Delicate
Despite their big size, their back is not strong enough to carry heavy loads. Carol Buckley, an expert from Elephant International Aid, explains that the elephants are not like other mammals with smooth and rounded spinal disks. Instead,
“elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. These bony protrusions and the tissue protecting them are vulnerable to weight and pressure coming from above.” – Carol Buckley
Try riding a wild elephant and I am sure that the elephant won’t be so nice to you. They can only be ridden by their mahout. They have a special relationship with their mahout and the elephants trust them. And they can ride them with their bare back, no chairs or saddles.
Are you now convinced not to support this cruel tourism?
If you’re now convinced to remove elephant riding from your bucket list, then stay with me for my fun recommendation. There are now a number of elephant sanctuaries that save elephants. These are paid elephant parks which would cost at least 2,000 Thai Baht because these organizations need to raise funds to buy the elephants from their masters. These sanctuaries also provide food and rehabilitation to the traumatized elephants. Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, Thailand prioritizes elderly elephants so they can still have a real life in their final years.
Saving the Elephants in Thailand
Elephant Nature Park was founded by Lek Chailert and she was also the one who took us to a tour around the mini jungle they have for the elephants. Now, let me walk you through a photo tour with these adorable elephants!
We were welcomed by an elephant who seemed delighted to see Lek. It was a great welcome! This was at the visitor’s area but the elephants are free to roam the huge compound.
Lek started with an educational tour of their mini jungle and the facilities they have to care for the elephants. They have a clinic which is very important as most of the elephants they have rescued already have disabilities due to the suffering they went through.
An elephant decided to follow us on our walk. In this safe place, the elephants do as they wish and they are not instructed by a master.
Elephant's special bond with a mahout
Each elephant has a mahout and they have a special bond that has been formed through time, not coerced. They only allow their mahout to ride their bare back.
The volunteer work here for a day is very easy and fun! We only had to make sure that the elephants are fed on time so we carry bananas and watermelons all the time. But my favorite activity was bathing the elephants! There is a big river within the sanctuary’s vicinity.
These elephants are treated like kings and queens. Some even want food while bathing!
They’re also very playful, one elephant seem to have thought that splashing buckets of water on him was not enough so he laid down and submerged himself in water. He successfully got everyone’s attention!
After bathing the younger elephants, the elderly and those that needed extra care went to the river. They require special attention so they were entrusted to their mahouts.
After bath time, the elephants freely roam around the area. And eat again after that laborious bath!
One of the elephants named Hope was hyperactive so we went upstairs. One can easily recognize him because he has a bell loosely wrapped around his neck. He can be very naughty and would just run so instead of restricting him, their solution was put on a bell as warning to the people around him that he may be after you. But he’s not dangerous at all.
- Playful Hope
- after bath snack
We also visited other elephants, and there’s a baby elephant! I remember his name was Navann. And he is a lucky elephant to not ever experience the suffering his parents went through. Lek tells us that the other elder elephants act like protective nannies to him.
The jungle is also a sanctuary for rescued dogs and cats. The dogs live peacefully with them.
While the fierce cats just snob them.
- fierce catto
- elephant just stares at catto
Did you see the elephant’s reaction?
This was a full day tour which also included a sumptuous Thai meal. It was worth it because I know that my payment went to a noble cause. There are other sanctuaries and I highly recommend Elephant Nature Park. I went back to Chiang Mai recently but I made a mistake not to book ahead of time. They get fully booked months ahead and they do not want to overcrowd the place as this will not be healthy for the elephants. I recommend that you book your volunteer work in advance through their official website. Each rescued elephant has a name and a story too. You may read about them in their website.
I know that this isn't the perfect solution for the problem of elephant tourism in Thailand. In a perfect world, we should see them free in the wild. But where is this free land where there will be no risk of them getting poached and being slaves again?
*I just want to note that the photos at Elephant Nature Park that looks like cages are NOT cages. These are open sheds that serves as resting place for the disabled and baby elephants. They are free to get out of the shed anytime.
All photos are mine except for the "performing elephant" thumbnail (image source was provided).
Note: This post was originally published in my old account in steemit.com - @wanderlass. Reposting it here as I no longer use that account and I don't want to use the name wanderlass because the sister of the popular blogging site "wanderlass" arrogantly told me that I am not wanderlass (even if it's not even a trademarked word), but I don't want any conflict with arrogant "big" influencers.