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Why You Should Remove Elephant Riding From Your Bucket List

Last 2016, 40-year-old Sambo the elephant collapsed and died of a heart attack after carrying several tourists around some of Thailand’s famous temples in 40 degree heat.

The same happened to 50-year-old Samruai, who despite previously showing signs of sickness, was forced to continue to give rides until her body had finally given up.

Elephant Tourism
Editorial credit: apiguide /

Elephants “offering rides” and showing off their “painting skills” may come off as heartwarming or cool must-see’s when visiting countries such as Thailand or Cambodia, however, the horrible truth behind these exploitive tourist attractions are anything but.

The ugly truth behind elephant tourism

At first glance, these gentle creatures might seem in good condition with a trainer that genuinely cares for them. But many tourists are unaware of the cruelties these elephants had to go thru to appear docile and ready to please.

Before they can interact with tourists, elephants are taken from their mothers at a very young age and raised in captivity.

On top of having to squeeze into a small crate during most of the day, the animals go through a torturous program called “Phajaan” which literally means “crushing” or mentally breaking into submissiveness.

This involves beating the baby elephant with sharp tools known as bull hooks, which would explain why guests may notice deep scars on either their ears or heads.

They’re legs are also tied and spread apart, they are shouted at, deprived of sleep and are starved for several days if not weeks.

If you can’t imagine being screamed at relentlessly for even five minutes, imagine having to go through all that for weeks at a time.

Understandably, after a long period of physical and mental torture, the baby elephant is finally “broken” and is willing to “obey” or do whatever it takes for the Phajaan to stop.

This final stage of Phajaan is call “mahout” – this is when the elephants will be introduced to their trainers or “mahouts” who will bring them their first taste of food and water.

After weeks of utter torture and starvation, the animal is manipulated to believe that this mahout is its generous savior.

Traditionally, the elephant is passed down to its trainer’s descendants where it will live its life as a spectacle for tourists — never knowing life outside captivity.

What can you do to help?

First thing’s first, don’t support elephant tourism. If you really want to witness and interact with these gentle giants, then it’s best to visit elephant sanctuaries like the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand or the MandaLao sanctuary in Laos.

Instead of exploiting the animals for monetary gain, these organizations focus on rehabilitating the elephants and educating visitors about the barbaric reality of elephant tourism.

Many elephants have been rescued throughout the years, but hopefully, with your continued help, they should no longer need saving. Never again will they have to endure abuse.

The following video of phajaan may have distressing images:

Want to help out? Visit a sanctuary today by booking your trips with Traveloka!

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