Hey Tourists of the World,
Shame on You!
Excuse me for being a bit worked up. I will explain. I just visited Chiang Mai, a place I first visited in 2006. Back then, traveling was very different. There wasn’t as much information on the interwebs and it wasn’t as easy to plan everything yourself. You relied on travel agents or tour companies. I don’t think there was a such thing as a travel blog then. In fact, blogging in general was just getting started.
I didn’t know the consequences of riding an elephant. Nobody was secretly filming at the circus or sending around petitions. There was no Facebook. I honestly didn’t know how badly elephants suffered so that I could ride one on that trip to Thailand. As an animal lover and animal advocate, I hate that I did this. In the past few years it has become glaringly obvious how unethical it is to support the elephant riding industry. I hate that I believed the Thai guide who told me how much their government cares about elephants and protects them from mean old China trying to poach them all.
Everyone Claims to LOVE Elephants
Well yeah…you can’t let China kill your cash flow and that’s what elephants are…dollar signs. In 2006, there were only a handful of options when it came to riding elephants. I was assured I was going to a “nice place” where they treated the elephants well. I admit I did not see a bullhook used at that time. However, I did watch the elephants dance, give massages and paint pictures. I remember thinking…wow they are so smart and must like humans since they learn so easily, blah blah. I thought they learned tricks the same way that a dog did. I sure was naive, huh
A quick look at the evolutionary history of dogs and humans coexisting will be pertinent here. Dogs evolved to coexist with humans and want to please us because that is what kept them alive. Prior to the domestic dog species, their ancestors, wolves, hung around human settlements looking for food. Sometimes they attacked humans, and this usually didn’t end well for them once humans had weapons. The more docile wolves did not attack, but instead hung around, and usually were rewarded with food scraps. The brave ones quietly moved closer to the humans, eventually leading to interaction, and ultimately affectionate relationships. Modern dogs have evolved with a clear genetic advantage to being docile and pleasing humans. Hence...the tricks and obeying of commands.
Newsflash: Elephants are WILD Animals
There’s nothing in the evolution of elephants that is analogous to dogs. In fact, they have every reason to avoid and fear humans. It is not natural for them to take commands and do things that a human wants them to, like dance and paint. So why do they do it? Fear and abuse have been used to overcome hundreds of years of what occurs to them naturally…to NOT do tricks that some little scrawny bipedal mammal wants them to.
To overcome an elephant’s wild nature, humans must break their spirit.
They are deprived of everything they find natural and normal. Ripped away as babies from cozy loving families, they are starved, tied, beaten, stabbed and denied love and attention. This process has a name...Phajaan. Some elephants will actually try to step on their trunks to attempt suicide. Of course they are so tightly tied that they can’t lie down, nor end their sad lives. Only after they give up on life and being happy... becoming robotic...are they docile enough and broken enough to follow commands routinely, reliably and be safe around tourists.
The information is out there now. As I returned to Chiang Mai in February of 2017, I mistakenly thought most people knew it is wrong to ride an elephant. Surely people weren’t doing this anymore, or at least not as much. Wrong! I saw at least twenty different brochures offering elephant interactions, many of them with rides. Some even have the nerve to call themselves rescue centers but show a picture of people riding.
The buzz word in the elephant tourism industry now is “sanctuary”. Everywhere is a freaking sanctuary!
Some call themselves elephant farms and I see people posting pics playing with an adorable baby “rescue” elephant. Rescue huh? Maybe at some places they are rescued babies, but these are rare. Where do you think that baby elephant came from? It was bred on the farm for your money! What do you think happens when it grows up? Is there endless space for big old untrained adult elephants on this magical farm? No! They will eventually be sold…and likely not to a good place.
I was so dismayed to see that things have actually become worse since I was here 11 years ago, not better. There are no excuses now. The information is out there at your fingertips if you take the time to research these tourist attractions. If you are not aware of how unethical these animal interactions are, then you simply do not want to be aware.
That is why I am being Judgy McJudgerson right now and saying...Shame On You Tourists! Please don’t let this trend continue. I want to return to Chiang Mai in a few years and see only a few brochures for elephant interactions…only the legit sanctuaries. My shaming is not just for elephant tourism. Tigers, horses, bears…all sorts of animals are tormented for life in order for locals to obtain tourism dollars.
Your Instagram animal selfie isn’t worth a lifetime of misery for the animals you claim to love. Your money is your power…use it wisely and use it for good.