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The Dark Side of Elephant Tourism: The Harmful Effects of Riding on Elephants

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

Elephants are majestic creatures that have been exploited for years in the tourism industry, where they are forced to give rides to tourists. Pai Lin, an elephant in Thailand, spent over 25 years working in the trekking industry, carrying up to six tourists at a time.

As a result, her back is caved in and sunken from the heavy weight of her past work, a common physical deformation seen in elephants used for tourist rides.

Pai Lin’s dipped back l Photo by wildlife friends foundation
Boon Chuey, is another of our rescued elephants l Photo by wildlife friends foundation

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), Thailand’s first chain-free elephant sanctuary, rescued Pai Lin and 22 other elephants from abusive pasts.

Elephants used for trekking are subjected to full days of carrying the weight of their mahout, groups of tourists, and a heavy howdah.

This constant pressure on their bodies deteriorates the tissue and bones on their back, causing irreversible physical damage to their spines. Pai Lin’s back still bears scars from old pressure points.

Seat used for elephant rides l Photo by wildlife friends foundation

While elephants may be known for their strength and size, their spines are not naturally designed to carry weight as they extend upwards. The pressure on their backbones from tourists can result in permanent physical damage, which is evident in the case of Pai Lin.

At WFFT, elephants like Pai Lin are free to roam, engage in natural behaviors, and live in large enclosures with natural trees, lakes, and grazing areas. The sanctuary offers a safe haven for rescued elephants to live the rest of their lives in peace.

It is essential to raise awareness of the harmful effects of riding on elephants and support ethical and sustainable elephant sanctuaries. Tourists should do their research and avoid establishments that offer riding or other exploitative practices. By doing so, we can help prevent the exploitation of these gentle giants and provide them with the care and respect they deserve.

The article composed by: wildlife friends foundation

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