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Why You Shouldn’t Ride An Elephant


by Cymbre Piotrowski



Elephant riding has long been a popular tourist activity, particularly in countries like Thailand, India, and Vietnam. The allure of getting up close and personal with these majestic creatures is undeniable. However, what many tourists fail to realize is the dark and troubling reality behind the scenes. Elephant tourism perpetuates cruelty, inflicting physical and emotional harm upon these intelligent and sensitive animals.


While riding an elephant may seem like a thrilling adventure, it is crucial to understand the ethical implications and the detrimental impact it has on the welfare of these gentle giants. This article aims to shed light on the hidden sufferings endured by elephants in the tourism industry and explore sustainable alternatives that prioritize their well-being.


It is important to emphasize that this article is not meant to shame or condemn individuals who have participated in elephant riding in the past, but rather to educate and raise awareness about the ethical concerns surrounding this practice.


By understanding the cruelties and ecological impact associated with elephant riding, we can collectively take a stand against animal exploitation and support more sustainable forms of tourism that promote the conservation and welfare of elephants.


The Cruelty Behind Elephant Tourism

Behind the scenes of elephant tourism lies a dark underbelly of cruelty and exploitation. Many elephants used for rides and performances endure a life of physical abuse and confinement. These gentle giants are often subjected to a brutal process called “phajaan,” or “crushing,” where they are separated from their mothers at a young age and forced into submission through physical and psychological torment.


Elephants used in the tourism industry are typically subjected to harsh training methods, including the use of bullhooks, chains, and tight restraints. They are often kept in cramped and unnatural conditions, unable to roam or socialize with other elephants as they would in the wild. The constant stress and confinement lead to health issues such as obesity, foot diseases, and psychological disorders.


Furthermore, the tourism industry often separates baby elephants from their mothers, causing immense emotional trauma. Elephants are highly intelligent and social animals, and removing them from their natural family structure disrupts their emotional well-being and hinders their ability to engage in natural behaviors.


The trekking camps and entertainment shows that promote elephant riding perpetuate a cycle of cruelty. The demand for riding experiences creates a need for more captive elephants, leading to increased poaching and illegal wildlife trade. The brutal process of capturing and training these animals not only harms them, but also contributes to the overall decline of elephant populations in the wild.


It is essential for tourists to be knowledgeable about the behind-the-scenes realities of elephant tourism and refuse to support such practices. By boycotting elephant riding experiences, we can send a powerful message that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in the name of entertainment.


Physical and Emotional Harm to Elephants

Elephants used in the tourism industry endure significant physical and emotional harm. The physical toll of carrying heavy loads and accommodating multiple riders on their backs can lead to long-term skeletal and muscular damage. The weight of the platforms or howdahs, along with the added strain of riders, puts immense pressure on the elephants’ spines and can cause chronic pain and injuries.


In addition to the physical strain, the emotional well-being of elephants is heavily compromised in captivity. These highly intelligent and social animals require extensive space to roam and interact with their herd. However, in tourist camps, they are often confined to small enclosures, devoid of natural vegetation and stimulation. This lack of mental stimulation and social interaction can lead to boredom, stress, and even depression.


Elephants are known to have strong emotional bonds within their social groups. Separating them from their families disrupts this natural dynamic and can result in profound grief and anxiety. The constant exposure to a barrage of unfamiliar sounds, smells, and interactions with strangers can be overwhelming and cause severe distress to these sensitive creatures.


Moreover, the methods used to control the behavior of the elephants in tourism settings involve painful tools such as bullhooks and ropes. These tools are used to exert control and often result in physical injuries and scars on the elephants’ bodies.


It is essential to understand that elephants are living beings with complex emotions and physical needs. By participating in elephant riding, tourists inadvertently contribute to the suffering and exploitation of these magnificent animals. It is our responsibility to prioritize their well-being and advocate for more ethical and sustainable interactions with elephants.


Ecological Impact of Elephant Riding

The ecological impact of elephant riding extends beyond the harm inflicted on individual animals. Elephants play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their natural habitats, and their exploitation in the tourism industry disrupts the delicate ecosystems they inhabit.


In their natural habitats, elephants act as natural engineers, shaping their environment and creating pathways that facilitate the movement of other animals. Their feeding habits help disperse seeds, promoting the growth and regeneration of forests. Elephants also provide water sources for other species by digging water holes with their trunks.


However, when elephants are taken out of their natural habitats for tourism purposes, the ecosystems they once nurtured suffer. Without their presence, the regenerative properties of forests decline, affecting the biodiversity of the area. Additionally, the deforestation and habitat destruction that often accompany the establishment of elephant trekking camps further exacerbate the ecological impact.


Moreover, the demand for elephant tourism creates a vicious cycle in which wild elephants are captured and bred in captivity to meet the increasing demand. The illegal capture and trafficking of wild elephants not only drives the decline of their populations but also disrupts the delicate balance of ecosystems by removing key species.


It is crucial to recognize the indirect consequences of elephant riding on the environment and the need to protect and preserve the habitats that elephants rely on. By advocating for the conservation of natural habitats and supporting alternative forms of sustainable tourism, we can ensure the long-term survival of elephants and the ecosystems they contribute to.


Alternatives to Elephant Riding

Fortunately, there are alternative ways to experience the beauty and majesty of elephants without contributing to their exploitation. Responsible and ethical tourism practices prioritize the well-being of elephants and support their conservation in their natural habitats. Here are some alternative activities and initiatives:

  1. Observational Tours: Instead of riding elephants, opt for observational tours where you can observe elephants in their natural habitats from a safe distance. This allows you to appreciate their behavior while minimizing stress and disturbance to the animals.
  2. Volunteer Programs: Consider participating in volunteer programs that focus on elephant conservation and welfare. These programs provide opportunities to work closely with elephants in sanctuaries or rehabilitation centers, where the emphasis is on their rehabilitation and release into the wild.
  3. Support Ethical Sanctuaries: Look for reputable elephant sanctuaries that prioritize the well-being and freedom of the animals. These sanctuaries offer opportunities for visitors to interact with elephants in a respectful and non-intrusive manner, such as feeding, bathing, and observing natural behaviors.
  4. Education and Awareness: Take the time to educate yourself and others about the realities of elephant tourism. Share your knowledge and raise awareness about the cruelty behind riding and the importance of supporting ethical alternatives.
  5. Choose Responsible Tour Operators: When booking tours or excursions, research and choose operators that have a commitment to animal welfare and sustainable practices. Look for certifications or affiliations with reputable organizations such as the World Animal Protection or the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

By actively supporting and participating in these alternative activities, we can encourage a shift towards more ethical and sustainable elephant tourism practices, promoting the welfare and conservation of these incredible creatures.



In conclusion, participating in elephant riding may seem like a thrilling experience, but it comes at a great cost to the well-being of these magnificent creatures. The practice of riding elephants perpetuates cruelty, causing physical and emotional harm to these highly intelligent and sensitive animals. Moreover, the ecological impact of elephant tourism disrupts natural habitats and threatens the delicate balance of ecosystems.


It is essential for tourists to be aware of the realities behind elephant tourism and to actively seek out ethical alternatives. By boycotting elephant riding and supporting responsible tourism practices such as observational tours, volunteering programs, and ethical sanctuaries, we can make a positive difference in the lives of elephants.


Furthermore, education and awareness play a crucial role in promoting more sustainable interactions with elephants. By sharing our knowledge, advocating for the conservation of natural habitats, and choosing responsible tour operators, we can contribute to the well-being and preservation of these incredible animals.


Let us remember that elephants are not meant to be entertainment props or vehicles for our amusement; they deserve to live in freedom and the wild. By prioritizing their welfare and supporting ethical practices, we can ensure a brighter future for elephants, where they are respected and revered in their natural habitats.