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.