My Moral Dilemma About Riding Elephants

This is among one of the most sensitive subjects among travelers you can talk about when it comes to Thailand tourism. Is riding an elephant morally wrong and unethical?

I only know what I’ve researched. I can’t say I have any “evidence” supporting the facts, but I’ll tell you my story. If after doing your own research you think it’s still okay to ride an elephant, who am I to tell you judge and tell you that you can’t? We all doing things that are considered unethical at one point or another and each person is unique to his/her own values – whether it’s not supporting animal bi-products to not supporting what some perceive as abuse.

It was the first week into Thailand and I knew I wanted to see elephants. I mean…it’s the thing to do when you’re out here. To personally engage with them seems like such an enriching experience, doesn’t it?

After doing a little research, I found dozens of articles about how elephants that are chained are being abused to support tourism. The elephants are working long hours and that their backs aren’t meant to carry all the weight. You will even find stories about elephants killing their owner out of rage.

I was in Krabi, a cute little beach town in South Thailand. I had a week long visit and wanted to book a tour to get away from the hotel. I find a little kiosk where a lady had a list of tour packages available and she was prepared to give me a good deal. There was one, particularly, that stood out. It was a three-part tour visiting a local hot spring, a Tiger Temple, and then ending with a short 10-minute elephant ride. In as many ways as I could ask if the elephant riding was done in a humane way, it was impossible to get her to understand me. I went against my gut and figured if I didn’t feel right about it, I wouldn’t do it.

We go to the other stops and then finally get to the elephant camp. Everything happened so quickly that before I even had time to think I found myself stepping on one of their backs so that I could enjoy a “bucket list” item of mine at the expense of the animal. Truthfully, I felt like a horrible person the entire time and I couldn’t wait to get off. Here two people are sitting on their backs while a third (mahout) sat on its neck guiding the elephant with a bullhook. I literally felt like I was supporting animal cruelty and this made me a bad person.

I guess the only way I can justify my experience to make me feel less awful about it was that it was a very short ride of about 10 minutes.

I feel morally wrong about. My intuition told me it wasn’t right and I ultimately did something I didn’t feel morally right about. The mahout kept jumping off to get photos, but I kept declining because I didn’t want any photos showing I actually supported this.

My elephant ride eventually ended and there was a little stand nearby that sold bananas for us to feed them with. I bought some feeling it was the only way I could tell them I was sorry.

Is riding an elephant wrong? I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but all I have to say is do your research. There are so many other enriching ways to spend with them which I eventually did further into my trip by volunteering at an elephant sanctuary.

Adventure Travel Blogger

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