Elephant Trekking – Behind The Scene –

Planet Of Animals
Planet Of Animals




shannon wild,wildlife,photography

Elephant trekking is perhaps the most popular animal tourism industry in South East Asia. Many people love elephants and want to ride them to interact with them, but do not realize they are contributing to an industry that is both cruel and unnecessary.  Recently social media has exploded with images and stories about elephants that have died in the tourism industry from heat, exhaustion and untreated medical conditions.

The method used to ‘tame’ an elephant for riding is known as 'breaking the elephant’s spirit' because a baby elephant is essentially beaten and starved for days. Then the new mahout comes in and ‘rescues’ them by giving the elephant food so that they seem like a savior. From this point bull hooks (sharp pointed sticks) are used to ‘train’ the elephant to tolerate riders.

planet of animals,photography,wildlife
shannon wild,planet of animals,wildlife,photography

Although elephants are strong their backs were not designed to carry the weight of multiple tourists and a wooden saddle.  Daily trekking causes permanent damage to their spine not to mention the wear and rub of wearing a wooden saddle day after day. Trekking elephants are also deprived of normal social interactions and behaviors such as foraging, bathing and exploring.

It is not only trekking elephants that suffer in the tourism industry. Elephants used for ceremonies and photography are often kept in chains their whole lives and fed an inappropriate diet. They are then forced to stand in the intense South East Asia sun and heat for hours on end with no access to water or shade. Many collapse in the heat and there have been multiple reports of elephant deaths during ceremonies.

But there is good news – there are organizations that allow you to interact with these beautiful elephants in a cruelty free way. Sanctuaries provide an opportunity for the elephants to display natural behaviors, receive adequate nutrition and grow old in peace. Just beware of ‘pseudo-sanctuaries’ that claim to care for these animals but still make them perform treks or tricks.

Photo of Boonme the elephant with Dr Sheridan. Boonme was rescued from the tourism industry after 50 years of service. She still suffers from ongoing infections and feet problems from her time in the industry.

Elephant Nature Park  in Northern Thailand offers day trips where you can pamper these beautiful creatures and help create a peaceful environment for them.  Wildlife Friends Thailand also takes volunteers for their elephant sanctuary where you perform daily husbandry tasks such as feeding, cleaning, bathing and walking these gentle giants around the sanctuary.

Boonme is one such elephant enjoying freedom at Wildlife Friends Thailand after spending 50 years in the tourism industry. I had the pleasure of working with Boonme during my time at the sanctuary. Boonme and many other elephants at the sanctuary have permanent scars, eye problems, feet problems and ongoing infections from the cruelty they endured during their time in the tourism industry.

So please remember although many people are lured in with a genuine interest in elephants they are in fact contributing to poor animal welfare standards around the world. Vote with your wallet and avoid unethical animal tourism and try to source animal friendly alternatives for your next holiday!

By Dr, Sheridan Lathe
Photo Credit: Shannon Wild