Elephant rides have traditionally been on the wish lists of travelers visiting Asia. Still, as more information regarding the moral considerations of the practice becomes available, the appetite for the so-called adventure is dwindling. 

Elephant ride concerns are especially prevalent in Asia, where the species are more vulnerable, and vacationers are generally oblivious of the violence behind the curtains. Such an act is one of the few topics that elicit such passionate discussion; nonetheless, there are many dimensions and complexity concerning the topic that is frequently overlooked.

Why shouldn't you ride an elephant ?
A man riding an elephant | Image Credit – Andre Mouton

Elephant domestication dates back to around 5,500 B.C. in Egypt, and we may discover the first record of elephant riding in the same era. They have been used for lumbering, fighting, royal celebrations, and more across centuries. According to ElephantVoices, between 15,000 and 20,000 elephants are kept in captivity and subjected to forced labor around the globe. Elephants have been discovered to be intelligent and conscious beings, and they struggle emotionally and physically when mistreated. 

Two female elephants deceased in Vietnam in 2013 due to exhaustion and starvation. A 43-year-old captive female elephant perished in Vietnam in May of 2015. Likewise, another  36-year-old male elephant died in January 2015 after collapsing for the same justification: he was discovered dead with his front limb chained. And the list goes on.

Table of Contents

1. An innocent baby elephant and the wretched phase “the crush”

Mama and baby elephant
Mama and baby elephant | Image Credit – paweldotio

Mature elephants are significantly more difficult to coach or otherwise subdue than baby elephants. As a result, these newborns are in high demand to obtain the numbers required to keep visitors satisfied with safaris.

Elephants are very possessive of their babies, and capturing a baby elephant frequently necessitates the death of other parent elephants in the area. Yanking a baby animal from its parent is probable to provoke extreme mental strain and, at worst, emotional damage in any species. However, in the case of elephants, the process is regarded as particularly cruel.

As horrific as the practice of separating a baby elephant from its mother is only the beginning of a lifetime of violence and agony for the baby elephant. The overall process of capturing a free elephant and preparing it for a destiny of submission to humanity’s will is so well-established that it has a specific term: ‘the crush,’ which separates the spirit from the body.  

This entails enclosing the baby elephant in a small cage and tying it up with chains to prevent mobility, particularly stomping or swaying the head. Therefore, several measures are utilized to guarantee the crush is effective. Sharp instruments such as bullhooks, nails, and sticks penetrate more vulnerable areas such as the inner ear or the foot, and shackles or bars are used to strike them. Other techniques used include depriving the animal of sleep and exposing it to thirst and hunger.

2. Bullhooks are used to control elephants

Elephants in captivity
Elephants in captivity | Image Credit – Flickr

Elephant keepers use the bullhook to tame and manage the elephants so that you can quickly saddle one. It is an extended metallic cane with a spike at the tip. The spike is used on the elephant’s vulnerable spots, such as the rear ends of their legs and behind their ears.

The elephant caretakers will claim that this is meant to “direct” the elephants, although if that is the reality, they would be fine without the pointed ends. However, the truth is quite different. Additionally, the bullhook is required for elephants to engage in shows and other spectacles.

3. Elephants are not built to carry heavy loads or lead a solitary life

One thing we must never forget- elephants, like ourselves, are sentient organisms. They prefer to socialize with individuals of their species and have family and communities. Regrettably, most tourist attractions do not allow them to do so. Elephants live in matriarchal groups in the wilderness. They go on daily hikes of several kilometers to hunt lush flora, sport, and bathe in waterways. On the other hand, elephants in confinement are deprived of this lifestyle. 

Tragically, they do not contact other elephants in many facilities for most of the day. After “labor,” they are held in isolation, harming mental health. It is imperative to bear in mind that elephants, like humans, have thoughts and experience mental anguish. They cannot interact with other elephants or freely travel since they pass most of their lives shackled. They move up and down with travelers on their backs on limited grounds or on restricted pathways, performing unpleasant maneuvers to entertain audiences.

Despite widespread opinion, elephants are not designed to transport visitors or labor! These actions can result in lasting spine damage and various other health issues. The elephant’s spine, rather than being in the form of smooth, spherical cushions, contains jagged, rigid spikes that are incredibly sensitive to any pressure or load. 

Furthermore, unpleasant (sometimes metal-dubbed “howdahs”) seats are mounted to the elephants’ backsides to transport people. These attachments rub against the animal’s skin during the riding and cause hazardous sores and abrasions, leading to infections and illnesses.

4. Your exotic rides are leading to premature deaths

Such rides can lead to premature deaths of elephants
Such rides can lead to premature deaths of elephants | Image Credit – C Rayban

Sadly, various elephant ranches or sanctuaries hold elephants in deplorable conditions. They are tethered and housed in cells after all-day excursions with hundreds of thousands of people on their backs. And they don’t have enough room to stand or move around. 

Furthermore, it is still possible that they are thirsty, not receiving the proper quantity of nutrition, or the meal they are receiving is of low quality. It has been frequently reported that elephants in captivity typically eat a low-nutrient diet and do not drink enough water. Furthermore, despite being in confinement, elephants are routinely denied the immediate treatment some require, particularly for their feet.

Elephants in encampments are frequently kept in horrendous conditions and made to work more than their capacity for long periods. As unbelievable as it may appear, there are still sites where these creatures “labor” for up to 15 hours per day and seven days a week. As you can expect, such rigorous labor harms their health, and extended treks with visitors on their backs result in various diseases and limb damage. The premature death of these creatures is depressingly prevalent due to poor living conditions and labor which is always beyond the ordinary.

Captive elephants suffer from severe foot problems, arthritis, and back injuries due to a lack of activity and a harsh concrete surface. As a result, it’s hardly strange that almost all elephants raised in captivity die decades sooner than their natural relatives. 

Foot and nail illnesses, chain-cut injuries, obesity, pressure injuries, skin ailments, musculoskeletal problems, tuberculosis, and growing occurrences of elephant herpes virus are among the diseases and conditions encountered in domesticated elephants that are not present in their wild relatives.

For example, in 2016, an elephant died from a heart attack after being forced to carry two visitors in 40-degree temperatures. The elephant was supposed to be between 40 and 45 years old at its demise, even though elephants generally live to be approximately 60 years old. Hence, elephant rides have been named the evilest vacation activity.

5. Old elephants face abandonment 

Alas, elephants that are too old or sick to carry people around and earn an income for the caretakers are deserted to their destiny, most commonly in the forest, where they have no hope of survival. This is mainly because they have been accustomed to dwelling in an encampment and being fed by humans since they were young.

6. If so, why are people still riding elephants?

Exhasuted Elephants
Exhausted Elephants | Image Credit – Kameron Kincade

It is often believed that most folks engage in these behaviors due to the absence of comprehension. It is also supposed that most of them would choose to check elephant rides off their wish lists if they saw the footage or learned more about the subject. Nonetheless, this dilemma is far from straightforward, as specific locations claim that they “truly care for elephants.” Yet, if they advertise elephant rides or other comparable attractions, they are most likely not. Like so many other parts of life, knowledge and understanding are powerful enough to stop this heinous act. 

And there is the question of preserving the integrity of visitors and caregivers on a variety of rides and attractions. Abuse and mistreatment of elephants can only grow if tourism seeks it. In contrast, sanctuaries and shelters dedicated to delivering the best circumstances for confined elephants can only flourish if consumers invest cash and effort in exploring them. 

Even though the actual “elephant-friendly places” are few, they provide us with hope, and a peek of what an elephant-friendly tomorrow might look like. If you wish to see elephants real close, skip rides and performances and instead go somewhere that offers solely observing opportunities. What could be more magical than witnessing elephants being elephants in the wild?

To Wrap Up

Even as we speak, tourists are entertained by elephants performing perplexing and even sometimes intolerable acts like walking on slender cords, balancing on their hind legs on a wheel, drawing images, and riding. The majority of the 13,000 people who responded to a study on why they wanted to ride elephants said they love animals. On the other hand, vacationers would tear their holiday images apart in a heartbeat if they understood what the elephants had to go through.

Say no to elephant rides and always keep in mind that elephants nerve forget!

(Last Updated on May 25, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!