An elephant’s suffering is not worth your Instagram likes

‘People don’t know the physical and psychological damage they’re causing to these gentle beasts’


Everyone who goes to Thailand wants to ride an elephant. Trekking through an exotic jungle while sitting atop a massive animal is understandably at the top of many a holiday bucket list.

Yet despite how much your friend in harem pants protests, or what that string-vested guy from uni who’d done a gap year told you, there’s no such thing as “ethical” elephant tourism – and no amount of Instagram followers is worth the suffering these animals endure.

Now, TripAdvisor have announced that they’re halting ticket sales for elephant trekking in Thailand. And while elephant tourism has contributed toward the country’s thriving economy for many years now, the move has finally highlighted the brutality of the practise.

According to Director of PETA UK Elisa Allen, many travellers are clueless to the plight of these beasts: “Most tourists have no idea that the elephants used for so-called ‘joyrides’ are sorely abused,” she says. Advertised under “false pretences,” most tourists are completely unaware of both the physical and psychological damage they’re causing to these gentle beasts by funding elephant tourism.

Elisa continues: “It has been documented that they are torn away from their mothers as babies, confined to tiny wooden crates, tied down and beaten mercilessly with nail-studded rods, and deprived of food, water, and rest. Flaming sticks are even waved in their faces – all to prepare them for a life of servitude in one of Asia’s many ‘elephant camps’.”

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It may come as a surprise to know that elephants don’t have very strong backs – experts claim they can support a maximum weight of approximately 150kg, or two average persons. Yet they’re fitted with a chair designed to carry up to four people.

And the cruelty endured by elephants extends far beyond physical abuse – these highly intelligent animals are renowned for exhibiting empathy and self-awareness. Elisa says: “In nature, elephants live in the company of family and friends, but those used for trekking spend most of their lives chained by two legs, barely able to take a single step forward or backwards, and swaying and bobbing their heads to try to quell the mental anguish caused by their captivity.” Simply put, elephants never forget the abuse they endure. 

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Many tourists claim their decision to engage in elephant tourism is acceptable due to Thailand’s small but growing number of elephant conservation centres that supposedly strive to protect elephants’ welfare. However, Elisa explains: “It’s worth noting that many self-proclaimed ‘elephant sanctuaries’ are nothing more than glorified circuses in which elephants are shackled for at least part of their lives and controlled with the use of force.

“True sanctuaries have no need for shackles or domination, as they allow elephants to roam over vast acreage in protected enclosures with members of their own species. No direct contact between elephants and the public should occur in a genuine wild-animal sanctuary setting.”

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So what can be done to help stop elephant abuse? Elisa says: “Tourists must stop supporting these cruel attractions with their wallets.” She adds: “Tour operators, too, must cut ties with elephant attractions immediately.” Fortunately TripAdvisor’s decision will hopefully educate and inform people that this “once-in-a-lifetime experience” is equivalent to the funding of animal abuse.

Getting the perfect Instagram photo certainly comes at a moral price, especially when elephant tourism is little more than a spiral of torture. Knowing what you now know, could you be so selfish as to value a “cool” photo over the wellbeing of a living creature?

When considering the factual evidence, it’s pretty easy to argue that supporting elephant tourism in Thailand is a dick move.