About Ethical Elephant TourismFebruar 05, 2017
Elephants might seem like they can easily carry a family of five on their backs but in fact they do not because their backs are not as strong as you imagine . Before an elephant is able to be ridden or to perform tricks, it is necessary to break its will and spirit, so that it obeys.. Breaking an elephants spirit is a cruel and dangerous practice and is based on violence in order to make the elephant fear the actions of its trainer. But people do not realize what they are supporting when they visit such places even though there are a lot of alternatives that tourists can support to raise awareness and help elephants that live in poor conditions.
A week after Christmas our hostel owner took us to a trip around Krabi with herself to show us some of her favorite places around the area. Towards the end of the trip she said she had a surprise for us, little did she know that her surprise would leave three young people speechless and with discomfort. (By the way, I do not blame her, because she thought we would like it like many tourists do.)
Our minibus stopped at a parking lot and as soon as we got there, we saw elephants in chains or with saddles on their backs, although there were not being ridden. We got out of the bus and I took some pictures to document their conditions. The elephant on the picture above stood there chained up, with injuries on his face from stabs with the Ankus and it was searching for food with its trunk. When I came closer it desperately tried to reach me with its trunk in the hope that I had bananas with me. In the back was another elephant with a saddle on his back and it was constantly swaying. All of the elephants I saw this day seemed mentally distressed. That is because elephants are highly intelligent and very social creatures and if they are seperated from each other and held in chains all day long, they develop habits to distract themselves from the lack of social interaction and movement. These conditions literally drive them insane.
When I finished taking photographs our host asked us if we wanted to ride the elephants and was rather confused after we declined.
After seeing this I wondered why anyone would want to see this? Why would someone support conditions like these just for a cool new profile picture on Facebook or some snaps on Snapchat to show off how adventurous you are? If you ride on an elephant on a picture you are not adventurous in my eyes, you are just an ignorant asshole.
There are so many alternatives to support where you can see elephants that have been redeemed from such places into sanctuaries where they are not chained up, forced to do trekking with tourists on their backs or to perform unnatural behavior. But in these reserves and sanctuaries you get to watch and interact with these animals in a casual way by feeding, bathing and walking with them.
At the beginning of our trip to Thailand in early December we went to the Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I did a lot of research before visiting such a place and I felt very relieved, when we got picked up and one guy in our small group was a former volunteer at this place and he gave us some helpful information about the sanctuary. It currently inhabits 4 elephants which were redeemed from circuses and elephant parks, like the one above.
When we arrived the first remarkable thing was that the Mahout did not use hooks to handle the elephants, even though there was not much handling necessary because all that the animals had to do was to be themselves. After the introduction phase we went for a walk which ended with a bath and a subsequent sand bath with a lot of rubbing at each other (kind of looked like an elephant orgy...). The whole process took place without force or hooks. Shortly after the elephants had finished their sand bath we went to cook noodle soup by ourselves and the animals were given some rest. In the whole time when I was there I had the feeling that the people involved really care about the wellbeing of their elephants. That day I also decided to write this blogpost because of the huge number of advertising for elephant riding, shows and whatsoever everywhere in Chiang Mai and later I realized it is everywhere in Thailand.
Here are some pictures of that day.
That is why education of such issues is important because the people involved with elephant tourism won't stop taking advantage of them when there is still a huge number of visitors each year. It is upon the tourist to decide against elephant riding! The tourist can make a difference in an elephants life by supporting sanctuaries instead of shows!