Travel Muse

Our Guide to Ethical Elephant Tourism

Hannah Clements answers some common questions on how the elephant tourism industry can be so cruel

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Image Credit: Katelyn Barnes

So, you have travelled abroad and are excited to see some elephants! But how do you know the right places to visit? Many tourist attractions profit off the abuse and anguish of these creatures for their own benefit, so it is crucial to find an ethical place to visit. This simple guide will help you make the right decisions, and explain why the elephant tourism industry is so dreadful.

**How to Find an Ethical Sanctuary **

The first step in finding a respectable attraction is by looking at the recreational activities it offers. If you can’t picture an elephant in the wild doing the advertised activity, stay clear of that organisation. These can include circus tricks, giving rides, painting, dancing and anything you can think of that is unnatural for an elephant to be doing. Instead, invest your time and money into sanctuaries that allow the creatures to roam free, and stay happy.

Secondly, know what signs of torture to look out for. An elephant that is being abused will often have scars and deep cuts on the most sensitive parts of their bodies, namely the ears, face and feet. The mahouts (those that work with and train the elephants) of tortured elephants will often be holding sharp objects such as nails or bullhooks, if not to use, to remind elephants of their past experiences with the object.

Finally, do your research! A quick google can be the difference between funding an elephant’s happiness or misery. If you are not sure of the morals of a particular place, always check its methods and values.

**An example: Elephant Nature Park **

Founded in the 1990s by elephant enthusiast, Lek Chailert, this organisation is responsible for rescuing hundreds of animals, including over 80 elephants, from lives of misery and abuse. The money this organisation makes is only used for the welfare of the animals, so you can ensure that you are not funding any inexcusable maltreatment of these beautiful creatures.

Unfortunately, in the modern world, it is just not feasible for elephants to comfortably live in the wild, especially those that have previously been tortured. With that in mind, Elephant Nature Park is the next best place for them. The influence elephants have on booming tourist industries have formed many people into wicked creatures of greed, and an elephant released into the wild will only be captured and exploited by another. At ENP, the elephants are protected and cared for, while allowing them to naturally interact with each other as much as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

**How are elephants mistreated? **
Contrary to common belief, elephants are not domesticated animals. Every single one, at least in Thailand, that is deemed suitable for human interaction has been through a torture process known as Phajann, or ‘to crush’. The purpose of this process is to ‘break the elephant’s spirit’ and render them submissive to their trainers and mahouts.

What is Phajann?
Phajann is the process of taking young elephants from their mothers and training them for the tourist industry using extreme torture methods. The elephants are forced into tight wooden cages, known as crush boxes, and are ruthlessly beaten with bullhooks until they cease to fight back. They can be contained in these cages for days or weeks, until they lose all hope and begin to obey the humans that have captured them.

**Why is it cruel to ride elephants? **
Any elephant that gives rides has been subjected to Phajann, but they are also forced to work long hours. It is not unusual for an elephant to work 12 hour days, 7 days a week. Despite their thick skin and large size, the heavy metal saddle combined with the constant weight of the riders makes the process painfully unbearable for the animal. And finally, a mahout is often sat on the elephant’s shoulders, forcing them to keep walking by the threat of a bullhook.

Watching elephants bond together is an incredible experience, and far more rewarding than the unethical alternatives! So, if you have the opportunity to visit elephants on your travels, please consider what may have happened behind the scenes of the local attractions.

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