Why is it Bad to Ride Elephants?

Travel is an excellent opportunity to meet new people, experience different cultures, taste wonderful food and for many people get to see the wildlife that they may have only seen in documentaries and books. While most tourists love to see elephants during travels, many tourists are not aware of the cruelty meted on them through riding. Although most people refer to elephants as domesticated animals, an elephant has never been truly domesticated. Since they are wild animals, it’s very hard to provide them with adequate conditions in captivity.

As compared to other animals, elephants die younger while in captivity. But what usually happens in captivity? While in captivity an elephant is chained so that it can have very limited movements. They are also controlled with sharp hooks and sticks and even forced to perform stressful and natural activities. In these conditions, they often develop behavioral and health problems hence prone to sudden aggression and outbursts towards their handlers thereby leading to fatalities and injuries. It’s, therefore, not advisable to ride on them.

Elephant in Captivity

When elephants are young they are usually beaten to make them submissive and then forced and trained to let tourists ride on them and sometimes even perform funny tricks such as dancing, painting pictures, and balancing in two legs. If only travels knew what elephants underwent they won’t dare ride on them. For instance, once they’ve been taken from the wild, training starts immediately. They are usually locked and caned with bullhooks that are designed to cause pain until they are broken and ready to obey. According to studies, elephants who undergo this often develop post-traumatic stress.

More so, these elephants are denied adequate water, nutritious food, and the much-needed health care. The hours spent standing and lack of exercise are usually some of the contributors to arthritis, food problems, and even back injuries. The training that’s required to make them submissive is just like a torture.

Regardless of their size, elephants are not meant to carry people as this can lead to permanent spinal injuries. Apart from their size the weight of the chair attached to their backs may also cause swellings and blisters that can easily get infected. Elephants are just like humans, they have families and friends, they socialize, feel sadness pain, and happiness. It’s due to these reasons that taking good care of them is very important.

There are plenty of Cambodia tour packages available so if you happen to book your trip through a tour guide be sure they promote ethical treatment of elephants.

Overall, elephants need enrichment, stimulation, and the freedom to live the way they want which they can’t get if they are forced to carry people around. If you really love animals you should not ride on the elephants.

Looking for more guides to animal care? Our post on moringa as animal feed may interest you.

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3 Replies to “Why is it Bad to Ride Elephants?”

  1. Every time I see people riding elephants or companies offering this service I cringe. As a frequent visitor to Thailand it’s very common there, however, I didn’t know it was a thing in Cambodia too. I guess that makes sense though. People abusing animals for profit happens all around the world. Now that tourism has stopped and all of these business can’t profit off the poor animals anymore they are left uncared for, often in horrible conditions, starving and neglected or even just put down to save on the costs and hassle of keeping them alive. Please don’t support this tragic industry so that people cant profit and thus won’t try to take advantage of these innocent animals.

    1. Yes, unfortunately riding elephants is common here where I am in Thailand and occurred mostly as a result of poor farmers being unable to afford to pay to keep their pets. In previous decades when there was less urban sprawl and more jungle and grassland, it was not uncommon for elephants to just wander around in the wild. You would even see elephants walking through the middle of quite large cities as late as the 1980s.

      Now though, we’re farming everywhere and if you are looking after an elephant and let it loose it will destroy your neighbors crops and cause legal issues. So, poor farmers started to lease out their elephants to these tourist park sharks, who profiteered on this predicament selling rides to unaware tourists. The farmers often had no choice.

      Tourists were mostly doing it for the photos, but hopefully more public awareness of the mistreatment of animals will put a stop to it forever. If we don’t support these companies, they won’t abuse the elephants.

  2. Thankfully, since the covid border close-down insanity, this practice has all but stopped. I do feel for the elephants who are now being left abandoned and/or dumped at sanctuaries and wildlife parks like the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary to be cared for and looked after by someone else now that the previous owners can’t make money off them anymore.

    Hopefully the majority of them will end up in a better home, and living in better conditions than before. I’m sure some will just be put down or left neglected though.

    Elephants are so clever and endearing, it’s horrible they get mistreated like this. While my company in Thailand is involved in tourism and helping people get visas to travel and stay here longer term, we never encourage our customers to go on elephant trips and discourage them and tell them of the reasons why they shouldn’t, if they ever do bring the idea up.

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