#WorldElephantDay: Elephant Tourism

Doesn't this look fun? Not for the Elephants.

Doesn’t this look fun? Not for the Elephants.

As someone in love with the idea of travelling, seeing the world, and living outside the mundane boundaries of the 9-5, I have wanted to go backpacking properly for a long time. My girlfriend and I are planning a trip around South East Asia next year during which we will be visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand where many Elephant tours operate.  These tours are fantastic for tourists from around the world and provide memories which last forever. I mean, on the face of it, who doesn’t want to ride through the jungle on an animal as majestic, as gentle, and as intelligent as an elephant?

This sounds great, so what is the issue with Elephant Tourism?
There are several, and I am no expert but ‘The Crush’, bull hooks, and pit-traps are the terrifying prospects that face wild elephant calves in Thailand and other parts of Asia.

It is not an elephant’s natural instinct to let a human on its back. (It’s not even safe for a human to do so, in any case it should be ridden on its neck). In order for this to happen, the elephant has to be conditioned. Conditioning in this way is called ‘the Crush’ as the elephant calf is beaten, stabbed with bull hooks, tied up to trees, whipped, and kept in confined spaces, such as pit-traps, until it subdues. There have been documentaries and photojournalism on such processes and while I’m not prepared to host photos of it on this blog, a simple Google search for ‘the crush elephant riding’ will bring up several descriptions of what I mean.

It seems like an appalling misunderstanding/ignorance that so many tourists don’t know about. And I’m sure that if they did know, they certainly would not take part. I’m sure there are companies and charities that do run sustainable operations where the elephants are fed and watered sufficiently, and cared for correctly. And for the animals that have already been through the process, and have not been rescued, the only way for them to stay alive is to ride them. But when the endangered Asian elephant is treated so brutally, sometimes visibly, it makes you question our priorities as tourists.

A similar issue is the treatment of tigers who are heavily sedated so that tourists can have photos stroking and cuddling them. Indeed, it was my girlfriend who highlighted both of these issues to me when considering our plans for Thailand. As a novice traveller who has not yet visited these places, you may say that it is unfair to comment. But I think you’re wrong. Being informed is the only way to prevent/avoid exploitation like this and on a day like today, maybe you should check it out.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: