The elephant is not only the heraldic animal of Thailand.

For centuries, the gentle giants served all kinds of purposes in Thailand, be it tank- like, as a war elephant or, more commonly known as a “machine” in the jungle helping to clear forests or transport and move heavy stuff such as logs or boulders. But with the progress in technology and the development or invention of mechanical devices, the work of the elephants became more and more obsolete.

That was, when the suffering started.

With more elephants or, rather, their owners or Mahout losing their jobs, they had to find new fields of activity and new ways to make money. Some saw no other way out but to move to the city, with the great beasts in tow.

The highly sensitive animals are now roaming the streets of the tourist areas with their human leaders, begging for food or little money, exposed to the “smell” of the traffic, the noise of the city and the lights – suffering from pure stress and sometimes even dying of the extreme conditions of their unnatural environment.

Tricks, that have no reflection in nature

These are extreme examples, of course. Most elephants work many elephant camps to perform their skills and little tricks for tourists and serving as riding elephants.

Now, you cannot tar all camps with the same brush. Some are better. Some are worse.

But more and more camps are reported, where the conditions for the animals are getting worse and worse.

The grey giants are often beaten and poked with pointed steel sticks to make them submissive and even break their spirit. They suffer cuts and other injuries that often get infected and cause extreme pain to the animals (Note, that the thick skin of an elephant is just proverbial)

Often the elephants are being kept in confinement – nothing else but a torture for the very social animals.

Or they are exposed to cheering, touching (e.g. loud and annoying for the elephant) tourist groups – all of them well meaning but totally achieving the opposite.

"Learning" starts at a young age

Or they have to perform tricks that have nothing even remotely to do with their natural behaviors.

Or they have to take tourists for a ride, being forced over slippery slopes, they would not dare to tread in the wild (sometimes resulting in the animal slipping, hurting itself significantly or hurting or even killing the passengers)

Or…

Or…

Or…

The rising number of fatal accidents involving tamed elephants has risen dramatically over the last years, clearly indicating that something is wrong with the system. Elephants get more and more stressed out by long working hours, overexposure or physical mistreatment. They even die younger in captivity, due to the often not only unnatural, but even harmful environment they are exposed to.

For this reason, more and more agents in Thailand are taking elephant shows and elephant riding out of their tour programs and replace it with more sustainable alternatives such as visiting elephant sanctuaries, elephant hospitals or offering a “Mahout- training”.

A "retirement home" for elephants

If you are thinking about booking an elephant ride, think about how you would like it, if hordes of screaming, shouting people were trampling through your living room, while a man is beating you with a cane or hurting you otherwise.

…and then: think again.