One of the activities that are prominent in Southeast Asia are elephant rides. People love elephants, and a ride on top might make a great Instagram photo to make your friends back home jealous. The reality is much different.
In counties like Thailand and Cambodia, operators are not regulated, nor is there oversite on the industry. As a result, there’s rampant abuse of the elephants from being beaten into submission. Worse yet, the elephant, and some of the tourists, are being killed.
There’s a strong movement to shed light on the dangers of elephant rides spurred last summer over the death of Sambo. The elderly elephant from Angkor Wat collapsed with tourists on it from being over-worked and over-heated.
World Animal Protection lists elephant rides as the most cruel vacation activity. They started a petition that eventual lead to TripAdvisor stopping promotion of these rides.
The simple fact is that elephant weren’t meant to carry weight on their back. They are wild animals unlike horses that have been bred to be workers. While we have a vision of elephants carrying kings, Indiana Jones & Short Round and stolen treasure, the elephants don’t like it and thus, they remember the pain and act out.
This happened in February, when a Scottish tourist was thrown off a raging elephant in Thailand. The man was then trampled to death.
The movement to end elephant is gaining moment through awareness and the W.A.P. calling out tour operators that promote these packages. “We firmly believe that wild animals belong in the wild. One of the ways animals are exploited is for the sake of entertainment. Tourists are often unaware,” Alyx Elliott, head of campaigns at WAP, told Newsweek.
The alternative is to visit an elephant sanctuary. The most popular in Thailand is the Elephant Nature Park in the Mae Taeng District. The park, with satellite location in Suri and Cambodia, acts as a rescue center for the animals where visitors can see up close how the elephants are cared for.
This looks like a much better photo op, don’t you think?