Why You Should Remove Riding an Elephant from Your Bucket List
So you’re booked and your are ready to go. You’ve drawn up your ‘must see’ list and you can almost feel the heat of the sun on your skin. You’re off to Thailand! And as with most travellers to Asia, you’ll be keen to tick off that ‘Elephant Ride’ from your bucket list. But how do you choose your experience? A trek through the jungle riding on elephants is a must, isn’t it?
A quick hello to the elephant before climbing onto the wooden seat strapped to the elephant’s back, enjoying an hour or two of lush jungle scenery and a bird’s eye view of the back of the elephant’s head. This is the main route most travellers seem to take, but once you’ve got off and left with your sore derrière and token elephant ride photo, you can be left feeling slightly lacklustre and sad at the poor condition the elephant you have been riding is in.
On this kind of trek the elephant interaction time is often minimal. The elephants can sometimes seem disinterested, solemnly methodical during the ride and for animal lovers, the use of bull hooks for control is distressing. Whilst the method for training elephants to accept humans on their backs is horrific and barbaric. This is typical of most elephant camps around the world, but, what if you could change that bucket list goal?
Rather than wanting to ‘Ride an Elephant’ what if you could hand feed one, bathe one, walk among them and really get to experience close up the beauty and strength of these magnificent animals?
There are lots of alternative options to the 'Bucket List' Elephant Ride in Thailand which include visiting sanctuaries which are open to those who want a more hands on experience, to learn about these beautiful giants, to take some amazing photos; all with the benefit of contributing to an excellent cause whilst avoiding riding and causing any harm.
One example of such a place is the Elephant Nature Park, 45 minutes from Chiang Mai in the northern Thailand. It’s a refuge for ex logging, trekking and show elephants. This haven really gives you a feel of how these animals live, free roaming in their 250 acre home, complete with jungle areas, a river running through the park and plenty of space for the many herds to live. There isn’t a bull hook in sight but just plenty of happy, trumpeting elephants, including the park born babies, 3 of which were born in the last year; they are mischievously adorable and will be sure to melt your heart.
Now that is bucket list worthy! You have the opportunity to bathe and play in the river with the elephants, dodging their squirts of water and cooling down from the harsh Thai sun. Feel the rough skin and the strength of their trunks as you hand feed them large chunks of fruit. You can watch them play in the mud pit, covering themselves in the cool sticky sludge they use as sun cream and enjoy seeing the younger elephants slipping and sliding into some comical positions.
So when choosing your elephant adventure, don’t immediately choose the standard option. Often just a small meander from beaten track you can find an opportunity to experience something that will stay with you for a lifetime. You won’t regret it!
By Jo Burgess
If Jo's experience has inspired you to want to do something like this you might like to view our trips to volunteer with elephants. If you are planning a break away to Asia please avoid treks and trips which include elephant rides, usually the animals are treated terribly which is quite shocking to see up close. We have some fantasitc volunteer programs in Thailand where you can do something ethical instead.
There are lots of ethical elephant sanctuarys in Thailand which you should check out including the Elephant Nature Park as detailed above, also the Wildlife Friends Thailand Foundation (WFFT) and Elephant Worlds which are both located in Kanchanaburi. There is also Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary and the Elephant Nature Park.
All these organisations are doing amazing work helping elephants and you can play your part too by donating, visiting or volunteering. Contact us if you need any help arranging an experience.