In a few months I will be celebrating my birthday and as has become the custom, this means an international trip inclusive of life changing experiences. Last year I went bungee jumping in Costa Rica, the year before that skydiving in South Africa, and the year before that hang-gliding in Brazil. This year I decided to check elephant riding in Thailand off my list however, recent discussions in my Animal Law class prompted me to reconsider my decision.
Although elephant riding appears seemingly harmless, many of these animals are tortured into submission through a process known as phajaan. Phajaan, which also means to crush, involves ripping baby elephants from their mothers and confining them in a very small space where they are unable to move. The baby elephants are then beaten into submission with clubs pierced with sharp bull-hooks.
As a result, an animal welfare bill was introduced in Thailand in 2014 to protect elephants from abuse. They are also listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). However, in case one assumes that everyone should simply abandon all elephant tourism, the Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation believes that responsible elephant tourism can actually help save Asian elephants. Due to loss of habitat, there is simply not enough land to release Asian elephants back into the wild and elephant tourism provides for their support and stability.
Many organizations work to rescue mistreated elephants from inhumane conditions and provide sanctuaries where tourists can have ethical interactions. These include Baan Chang Elephant Park, Elephant Park Project, and several others. All elephant riding organizations in Thailand, therefore, do not abuse and torture the elephants, however; it is up to you to do the research ahead of time to determine which locations are engaging in the best treatment and care of these animals. After that, the only thing left to do is to enjoy learning more about these amazing creatures.