Wildlife Group Takes a Stand Against Elephant Riding as a Tourist Attraction. Is It Cruel or Just Tourism?

Image Credit: nymphoenix & Shutterstock

A wildlife rescue group in Thailand, Wildlife Friends Foundation (WFFT), has released photographs to the news organization CNN, which show the impact that tourists in the country are having on elephants.

For some time now, elephants have been used as a tourist attraction in Thailand, with travelers being able to feed, pet, and even ride these magnificent. According to the WFFT, though, the riding aspect of this sector causes elephants significant issues.

In one of the images submitted by the group, a 71-year-old female elephant called Pai Lin can be seen with a disfigured spine after working in the tourism industry for the last 25 years. At times, she has been forced to carry as many as six people at one time. Although elephants are immensely strong, having to withstand this weight takes its toll over the years.

She has been rescued by WFFT and will live out her days with 24 other rescued elephants at a sanctuary in Hua Hin; however, the problems with her back cannot be reversed. The group has said that Pai Lin’s back “bears scars from old pressure points” in a statement released to CNN.

They added:

“This continuous pressure on elephant’s bodies can deteriorate the tissue and bones on their back, causing irreversible physical damage to their spines. Pai Lin arrived at our sanctuary in 2006 after working in the Thai tourism industry.

She was given up by her previous owner, who felt she was too slow and always in pain and couldn’t work well anymore.”

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Riding Elephants is a Form of Animal Cruelty

It isn’t just in Thailand that elephants are the focal point of many tourist attractions. In other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Cambodia, you can also ride elephants, which demonstrates how widespread the problem is.

Activists are now saying that riding elephants is effectively a form of animal cruelty as their bodies aren’t designed to be ridden. Not only that but many of the elephants are also forced to partake in activities such as trekking and logging, which results in them dying from exhaustion.

Explaining the biology of an elephant, WFFT’s Group’s Project Director Tom Taylor said:

“Their spines extend upwards. Constant pressure on their backbones from tourists can result in permanent physical damage – which can be seen in Pai Lin.”

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Raising Awareness

The purpose behind sharing Pai Lin’s story is to raise awareness of the issue and stop tourists from engaging in these types of activities. If people stop choosing to ride elephants, then these types of “attractions” will be shut down.

Edwin Wiek, the director and found of WFFT, has said that now is the right time to raise awareness of the problem because tourism is again booming after the pandemic. He added:

“It’s important to understand that elephants, unlike horses, are not bred to be ridden. They are not domesticated animals and are taken from the wild and kept in awful conditions.

Pai Lin has been rescued and is now fatter than when she first came to us. But can you see the shape of her spine very clearly – it’s a physical deformity she will have to live with, but she’s doing well.”

This article was produced and syndicated by The Impulse Traveler.

Andrew Delaney
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