Why You Should Turn Your Back on Elephant Rides

Published by Jennifer O'Connor.

Elephants are some of the world’s most awe-inspiring animals. They are also among the most abused when forced to entertain the public by “giving” rides.

Whether they are born in captivity or stolen from the wild, elephants must be emotionally and mentally broken before people can climb onto their backs. Elephants who are destined for this grim fate are doomed from the day they’re born. Even though, in the wild, elephant mothers are highly protective and youngsters stay with their families for years (females for their entire lives and males until their pre- or early teens), baby elephants are taken from their frantic mothers so that their independence and spirit can be broken.

Handlers use force and domination to keep elephants afraid and submissive. Elephants are repeatedly hit with bullhooks—a heavy weapon with a sharp steel hook on the end. They learn to obey commands or face the painful consequences. Even though elephants are meant to roam with their families over vast distances, captive elephants are typically kept tightly chained and separated from their friends and loved ones.

Every fairgoer who buys a ticket or overseas traveler who books an excursion is responsible for this merciless cycle of abuse.

Scam ‘Sanctuaries’

Elephant camps throughout Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and other Asian countries are notorious for duping the public into believing that their activities benefit elephants—often by claiming to rescue them or offer them “sanctuary”—but the reality is far darker. The international watchdog organization TRAFFIC has documented that wild elephants are being captured and broken to allow public contact. Young calves are taken from their mothers and tortured until they give up all hope and submit. Elephants are tightly chained when not being used for rides.

“In Myanmar, domesticated elephants are used to corral wild animals into pit-traps where older protective members of herds are often killed and the higher value, younger animals taken. The young are then transported to Thai-Myanmar border areas and then mentally broken and prepared for training before being sold into the tourism industry in Thailand where they are put to work at tourist camps or hotels.”

—2014 TRAFFIC report

You May Die

Denied everything that gives their lives meaning, elephants sometimes snap and rampage, potentially injuring and even killing those around them. A British tourist was killed after he was thrown from an elephant during a 2016 trek in Thailand.

Enough Is Enough

Elephant rides are archaic and cruel, and they offer no benefit whatsoever to the ever-shrinking population of these endangered animals. Only the most mercenary fair boards are still booking elephant exploiters like Have Trunk Will Travel and Hugo Liebel, who forces an ailing elephant named Nosey to travel the country. And international travel agencies, including Responsible Travel, no longer promote trips that include elephant treks, nor do STA Travel, the world’s largest student travel company; TUI Group, the world’s largest leisure, travel, and tourism company; Thomson Agency; and G Adventures. TripAdvisor’s website offers a helpful social platform for travelers, packed with posts to assist you with planning the perfect trip. For animal-friendly advice, be sure to follow PETA!

You can help elephants, too, by refusing to take rides on them when traveling.

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“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind