Indian Elephants with Saddles for Tourists to Ride - Photo by Frank Raj - Pixabay

Why it's Not Okay to Ride an Elephant - Elephant Rides for Tourist Amusement is not Ethical

Elephant Riding Photo by  Frank Holleman - unsplash
Elephant Riding Photo by Frank Holleman - unsplash


In this modern age, many of us grew up with a dream of riding elephants. Whether it was from the influence of childhood books or safari movies, the act of elephant riding is something that many of us grew up believing was part of the true safari experience and was ultimately part of the adventure. But the truth is riding elephants is incredibly harmful to the animal and is supporting the abuse, torture, and neglect of elephants. 

Surprisingly, most people today who want to ride elephants simply want to ride them because they love the animal, not because they want to hurt them. The main problem surrounding this issue is a lack of knowledge around the subject of elephant riding and not knowing the terrible abuse elephants undergo behind the scenes when they are taught to carry people, as well as their safety concerns when they do carry people. With that said, if you’re unsure of why riding elephants is so bad, we’re going to cover it in this article. From the abusive process elephants go through to prepare for riding, as well as their health concerns during their treks, here’s our in-depth coverage of why you should never ride an elephant. 

1. Inhumane way of training elephants to be ridden 

To start, when it comes to the question of why elephant riding is so bad, the first and most important reason you shouldn’t ride an elephant is because elephant handlers who train elephants for tourist rides do so in an inhumane manner. The “training” process use to prepare an elephant for amusement rides is horrific and it consists of constant abuse to the elephant morning and night during the break-in process. For example, when elephants are in training for riding, they are often captured from the wild, taken away from their families, including calves being separated from their mothers, and taken into captivity. From here, the elephants undergo a process often referred to as crushing or Phajaan, which is a procedure used to ‘crush’ an elephant’s spirit into becoming submissive.

The ‘crushing’ method involves putting an elephant in a cage and tying it down with ropes until it is entirely immobilized so that humans can use pain and fear-based procedures in order to make it submissive. National Geographic once reported the use of nails, bullhooks, sticks, and spiked chains used during these procedures, while other sources have reported sleep deprivation, starvation, and the removal of water as part of this procedure. Researchers have found that elephants who are subjected to this “breaking” or “crushing” process often develop post-traumatic stress disorders and may never recover from them.


2. The process of trekking is psychologically and physically abusive to elephants

Once the elephant’s spirit has been broken and they are considered "trained", they go through what is known as "trekking", which teaches them to follow a certain path they will use to take tourists out on rides. During this process, baby elephants will be chained to their mothers, unable to nurse or stop, and must keep the pace of their much larger mother, which can tug on them, knock them over, and hurt them. Not to mention, if the elephants are not going at the speed that their handler prefers, they will be prodded with bullhooks in order to keep them moving. This is incredibly painful and scary for the elephants and can cause them intense psychological fear as well as make them lash out. 

 3. Elephants are starved and forced to live in chains and in solitude

Photo of Chained Baby Elephant by Stephan Steuders - pexels
Photo of Chained Baby Elephant by Stephan Steuders


Next, when the elephants are done trekking for the day, they are returned to their crates and are kept in their chains or shackles with little food and water to keep them weak and submissive. These chains are often short in order to restrict any sort of movement by the animal and the short chains can make it impossible for the elephants to walk or dig into their skin as they try to move away. The elephants are also kept in isolation from others of their kind, which can cause them severe psychological problems, including depression, as they are very social creatures, like humans. 


 4. Elephants can develop permanent injuries, infections, and psychological problems

 Indian Elephant being Bathed - Photo by absrung - pixabayIndian Elephant being Bathed - Photo by Absrung - pixabay

Aside mentioned above, when elephants are kept in captivity with added stress, depression and frustration can manifest itself into mental and physical ailment for the elephant. Some of the documented behaviors and injuries that show distress in a captive elephant are: 

a) A constant bobbing of the head and swaying

 The first behavior that elephants kept on chains or in small areas tend to display is known as a bobbing of the head or a constant swaying. Tourists are often told that this display is just elephants playing and dancing, but in reality, elephants that display this type of behavior are undergoing extreme psychological stress; therefore, this behavior should be seen as a cry for help (National Geographic).

b) Foot problems

 Another common problem elephants in captivity will suffer from are foot issues. This is because elephants are frequently forced to stand on concrete for most of their day, which can leave them developing problems with their feet, such as ulcers. Believe it or not, these foot problems in elephants can be so serious that they can result in premature death. Seemingly “minor” health concerns are not to be taken lightly when it comes to elephants in captivity.

c) Infections.

Lastly, with the constant abuse that elephants face in riding camps, they are also likely to contract infections. This is most commonly from the tight chains placed on their feet daily as well as from getting prodded with nails and bullhooks by their trainers. This can cause severe pain to the elephant and commonly goes untreated, which has unfortunately led to many elephant deaths.

 5. Elephants can get permanent spine damage from riders

Indian Elephants with Saddles for Tourists to Ride - Photo by Frank Raj - Pixabay Indian Elephants with Saddles for Tourists to Ride - Photo by Frank Raj - Pixabay 


Aside from the blatant animal cruelty of crushing, trekking, and neglect that these beautiful animals must undergo, once their spirit is considered broken, they are then prepared for riding, which is when many of their health concerns come into play. Yes, elephants are large animals, but despite their massive size, elephant spines cannot properly support the weight of people on their back. This is because, unlike most spines, elephants have sharp and bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine, making them extremely vulnerable to weight. 

anatomy-of an elephant - elephant skeleton

Skeleton of an Asian Elephant

 And in most cases, an elephant will carry around three people at once, their saddles, and their handler dozens of times a day on treks. With all this extra weight on the elephant's sensitive spine, it can cause extreme pain for the elephant and potentially lead to permanent spinal injury and may even cause the elephant to become paralyzed. This type of activity may sound like fun to tourists visiting the area, but we assure you that it is not at all fun for the elephants.


Overall: Elephants are not here for our entertainment, they are wild animals who deserve to be free

 Baby Elephant in chains Photo by Nuzree - PixabayBaby Elephant in chains Photo by Nuzree - Pixabay


To conclude this somber article, we would like to stress that the act of elephant riding for entertainment is cruel and should not be supported under any circumstances. This form of entertainment is cruel, therefore if a 'sanctuary' or nature park offers elephant painting shows, circuses, or riding, you can be certain the elephants have undergone horrific abuse to get them there and should not be supported. Always do some research on the elephant sanctuaries and nature parks that you visit to ensure that you are taking part in ethical tourism and not adding to the inhumane treatment of elephants.  

If you have always dreamt of seeing elephants in person, there are many humane wildlife sanctuaries where elephants can be observed in their natural element in the wild, places where you and these beautiful animals can both remain safe, and the elephants can remain happy, healthy, and free. Isn't that what we're all looking for, safety, security, peace, and happiness.  




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