Elephants are the largest land mammals on Earth. Despite their size, they can be quite gentle and sweet.

African elephants are known for their tusks while those in Asia, are deeply integrated into culture, and sometimes, even economy. For instance, India and Thailand are famous for providing elephant rides to tourists.

Many are still unaware that elephant rides are a form of animal exploitation, and that these animals have probably been trained in abusive ways for them to remain submissive. Fortunately, awareness about this practice is on the rise.

Undomesticated captives

According to World Animal Protection, an organization that documents the conditions of Asian elephants involved in the tourism industry, elephants used for rides and shows are often described as “domesticated”, but it’s a misnomer.

Being domesticated means losing one’s wild instincts and successfully adapting to human companionship. Elephants, however, do not show any of these traits. They’re actually captives, chained and confined in small spaces to be used for human entertainment.

1. Elephants are captured from the wild and taken from their families.
2. Many elephants undergo training that necessitates very painful methods, such as stabbing with hooks to exert dominance.
3. They’re often housed in inadequate environments and fed a poor diet.These practices contribute to the elephant’s post-traumatic stress disorder. Some elephants who are severely abused may suddenly collapse or have an emotional outburst that can cause injury to tourists, or even death.

1. MAYBE, have a good time?

Species Alert!

According to the IUCN Red List, Asian Elephants are endangered as their population continues to decrease. They’re continually threatened by humans: As our population continues to increase, their rightful homes are taken over for agriculture and urban use. The continued treatment of elephants as entertainment, as well as poaching for their ivory or skin for leather, contributes to the problem.

Sanctuaries are sexy

Elephant sanctuaries are hot! Elephant rides are not.

Sanctuaries are definitely the best places to go if you’re visiting a country with elephants. They don’t train elephants; they simply make sure these animals remain in a protected area and are well cared for. Elephants are in their natural environment and are not forced to obey orders. Visitors are also educated properly about them.

Here are a few places that you might enjoy.

1. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (Thailand)

They have four locations in Thailand: Chiang Mai, Phuket, Pattaya, and Samui. They started an ethical and sustainable project that prioritizes the welfare of elephants. The money that they raise from donations and visits helps in rescuing other captive elephants and in maintaining the sanctuaries.

Volunteers are welcome.

REMINDER: Most sanctuaries strictly prohibit elephant rides. According to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, their protruding spines cannot bear heavy loads. Riding elephants causes their spine to degenerate and become deformed.

2. Phang Nga Elephant Park (Thailand)

It is a small, family-run park with a history that goes back 150 years. They are against abusive practices and strongly object the use of these gentle creatures for entertainment.

Descriptions of each elephant are provided, with corresponding reminders for visitors to approach them with caution to prevent accidents. Mahouts (caretakers) guide visitors during interaction.

3. Elefantastic (India)

They provide welfare services and also raise awareness for Asian elephants. They have a human-elephant interaction program that helps pay for vet care and sanctuary maintenance.

Visitors get to meet and befriend the rescued elephants, walk with them, feed them, and even wash them, depending on the season. The sanctuary also provides home-cooked vegetarian meals.

Beware! Pretenders ahead

PETA warns against attractions trying to fool tourists against places claiming to be sanctuaries but are actually using and exploiting elephants for profit. Here are things to remember when picking a sanctuary to support.

1. The internet is your friend – Find out about their program to see if they truly prioritize animals.

2. A true sanctuary or refuge would not allow the use of elephants for entertainment – Don’t go to places offering elephant rides, shows, tricks, dancing, or anything that requires obedience from these animals.

3. Ethical tours require you to adjust to elephants, not the other way around – Mahouts are available to ensure not only the safety of humans, but also the comfort of elephants.

4. Most sanctuaries educate their guests about elephant behavior – A good sanctuary provides proper education about elephants. They may also have rescue programs.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s September 2019 issue.

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