One that always stands out as synonymous with Thailand is the opportunity to join in an Elephant Trek where you get the to ride one of these large beasts through the Thai jungles.
Just imagine having the opportunity to sit atop one of these gentle giants as you meander through the pristine jungles, posing 9 feet off the ground, lumbering through deep rivers with tropical surrounds.
But let us stop for one moment and address without any pun intended the elephant in the room.
There are elephant riding tours available, and then there are ethical elephant tours available. The latter spend their time rescuing these giants from companies that would see them being used for entertainment, begging and riding.
Illegal capture and trade for use in the tourism industry is also a big problem in Thailand. This industry unfortunately thrives because foreign visitors, like you, all want to ride elephants, or watch them do tricks, paying high prices for the opportunity.
Taming these giants is no different to training a wild horse, the only difference is that it is much more brutal, and is done at a very young age. Taking into account that these animals can live until they are 100, it makes for a very upsetting start to their long lives.
Wild elephant’s don’t just let humans ride them, they are tortured as a baby to break their spirit, in a process call Phajaan, or “the crush”. This process involves taking a baby elephant from it’s mother, confining it to a cage or a hole in the ground with no escape, where they are unable to move around.
The baby elephants are beaten into submission with clubs, dragged around with piercing sharp bull hooks, starved and deprived of sleep.
They can continue to be stabbed and poked to remind them to continue to be submissive. Let us remember, that an elephant never forgets during it’s long life.
Riding an elephant can actually cause serious long term harm to these majestic animals. An elephant’s spine is not designed through evolution to support the weight of humans.
This may be hard to conceptualize due to their shear size, but a Zebra has the same basic design.
Supporting a tour operator who rescues elephants, placing them in a jungle camp, where they are not ridden, and your contribution to visit them is used to maintain their natural life, rescue more elephant’s and allow for mahouts to live in the camps with them.
The choice is always up to you in the end, but for my part, seeing people riding elephants, or drag them through bitumen streets with a metal spike to beg for money is not my idea of helping these endangered glorious creatures.