Travel Tips : To ride or not to ride an Elephant that is the question?



To ride or not to ride an Elephant while on holiday? It seems to be a hot item in the travel world. And I am not sure what I have to think of it. When people come on holidays in Thailand, Laos, India, Cambodia, Sri Lanka or in any country where elephants are still living, a trip to a "Elephant camp" is a popular thing to do. By tour-operator sold as : "Today we will bring a visit to the trainings-camp for young elephants, where they learn how to move logs in the jungle. And you have the opportunity to make a fantastic safari on the back of the elephant thru the jungle. A great adventure!" And yes, I did that also.


Elephants used to work in the jungle to move logs (teak trees) in the remote jungle. Nowadays in the most countries this work is done by machines. So elephants became jobless and their owners (mahout) moneyless. So a new job and money making was created with elephants in Elephant camps Sounds all very well. But .... do you really think that this huge and amazing creatures just listen to their mahout (owner) for fun? It is hard work in the jungle, and most humans seem not to take care very well of any animal. One gentle stroke of an elephant will wipe you of the earth. So why does the elephant listen?


In news stories is told how Elephants are trained to listen. And that is not a nice story. It is called "Crushing the spirit" or the "Phajaan method".
It's a sound not easily forgotten. Just before dawn in the remote highlands of northern Thailand, west of the village Mae Jaem, a four-year-old elephant bellows as seven village men stab nails into her ears and feet. She is tied up and immobilized in a small, wooden cage. Her cries are the only sounds to interrupt the otherwise quiet countryside.
The cage is called a "training crush." It's the centerpiece of a centuries-old ritual in northern Thailand designed to domesticate young elephants. In addition to beatings, handlers use sleep-deprivation, hunger, and thirst to "break" the elephants' spirit and make them submissive to their owners.
"The people believe that to control the animal they have to do something to make the elephant feel fear and pain," said Sangduen "Lek" Chailert, a well-known Chiang-Mai-based activist who runs Jumbo Express, a program bringing free veterinary care to these animals. She's an outspoken critic of the crush.
Have a look at this web-site The Phajaan Methode
Let me say this. I did never meet someone who has saw this firsthand, I have never seen this myself. It is up to you to make up your own mind. And act by it. So will I make an Elephant ride? No, but besides my work I would have never done that. I never did on my own holidays. Like I do not go to ZOO's and I do not go fishing for fun. I think that all animals should be treated well, just like you would treat your own children. That also includes the monkeys & snakes on the street to make a photo with. That also includes most animals in ZOO's. That also includes fishing for fun. That also includes most the dogs, cats and rabbits being sold on markets as pet. That also includes the chickens, frogs, pigs being sold as our food. I am vegetarian? No .... I think we humans are designed to eat meat. But still that means I think we should not mistreat any animal. Big or small, cute or not.

So that brings me back to the elephants .... "To ride or not to ride" ...
I have no problem with riding an elephant, as long as that elephant is not and never has been mistreated for this. And as I would not like to ride a wild elephant, in reality that means "No do not make an elephant ride" as most elephant camps will have elephants that are or have been mistreated.
Actually that means "Do not visit an elephant camp unless you are sure that all elephants there are not and never will be mistreated". But how can you be sure?

For me that also means

  • No photos with snakes, tigers, monkeys or any other animal.
  • Not visiting a ZOO.
  • Not fishing for fun.
  • Not hunting for fun.

And many tour operators (international) now claim not to make elephants rides anymore. I still have the feeling that is not much more as a commercial slogan as they would as well still visit an elephant camp where elephants are or have been mistreated. But thanks to the great effort of people like Edwin Wiek from Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand there is hope that animal friendly elephant camps can be visited where your visit contributes to the welfare of animals. Another elephant camp recommend by Edwin Wiek is Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. I must say that I have never visited either of mentioned elephants camps, but with the known reputation of Edwin Wiek I believe him on his word.

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