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46 Comments on “Thailand (Part 3) Riding an Elephant”

  1. March 13, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    Jealous! That looks like a blast. I have taken a ride on a camel, but never an elephant.

    • March 13, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      Annette it was really really lovely. I sat there thinking to myself ‘I MUST soak this experience up-I am SO lucky!’ I loved Natalie 🙂

  2. March 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    Awesome – Natalie looks like quite the sweetie! Love elephants – they may be giant, but they are so wonderful!

    • March 13, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

      Hi Anita! Thank you for stopping by my blog! It was a truly magical experience, but maybe worth reading the comments below before you consider it-I know they would have made me stop and visit an elephant sanctuary instead! I am still glad I got to feed them and stroke her though. Natalie was AMAZING

  3. Amy
    March 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Unfortunately, regardless of what people tell you or what you think you saw, it can be difficult for the layperson to know whether an elephant is healthy and happy. There are better tourist operations and worse, but there are none that are very good. Remember that what you see isn’t what counts — it’s what you DON’T see. The training, for instance, is especially brutal but you will never see it.

    There are only two elephant sanctuaries in Thailand: the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) and Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES). You cannot ride the elephants at either one.

    I urge you to visit an excellent website called Elemotion

    to learn more about elephant tourism. I would also be happy to discuss this further with you offline.

    • March 13, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Amy. It was only when I was reading up about elephant trekking yesterday that I found the news articles I linked to. I wish I hadn’t been so over-excited and naive. That said-the man did seem genuinely to adore Natalie, and Natalie was allowed to wander off track and amble around as she pleased without too much in the way of direction.

      I would feel genuinely awful if I had unknowingly contributed to the unhappiness of an elephant. I really did think she was one of the most amazing animals I had ever encountered.

      I have been fascinated with them ever since I saw this video:

  4. Liz
    March 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Such great photos! Shame it was a little spoiled by the pushy sales tactics at the end but I’m sure you enjoyed it anyway. Hadn’t thought about adding this to my bucket list so far…

    • March 13, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

      Well you may like to read Amy’s comment above before you do… But if you can find somewhere that is reputable and where the elephants are happy, then I would totally recommend it. I was in love with her and so was my daughter.

      • Liz
        March 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

        I think I’ll just add to go and look at them and watch them play rather than ride on them after reading Amy’s comments. So sad that such lovely creatures are exploited in this way.

  5. Amy
    March 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

    Emma — Thanks so much for being open.

    The video you linked to is of Tarra the elephant and Bella the dog (now deceased) at The Elephant Sanctuary. Carol Buckley, the woman who raised Tarra and started the Sanctuary has started a new organization, Elephant Aid International —

    You might be interested in her work. She is now working on creating India’s first elephant care and rehabilitation center (sanctuary) —

    It’s an incredible project and, Carol being who she is, it will also have benefits for wild elephants. You can keep up with her progress here —

    • March 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

      I did see that Bella the dog had died-so sad. Apparently Tara still visits Bella’s grave which I found very touching-they are clearly very emotional animals!

      Thank you for the links. Do you work with Carol yourself? I hope that the Thai Government tighten up on things like tourist operations with Elephants if they are not treating them well…

      I am about to write up a piece about my visit to the Phuket Monkey School… That was just AWFUL. It was not something I had planned, my taxi driver suggested it, and to be honest it left me feeling sick to the pit of my stomach afterwards. I’m pretty ashamed to admit I went, but I feel I should write about it-so that others know what to expect, and so that perhaps it wont continue to profit from it’s exploitation of these amazing animals.

      I will donate some money to your friend Carol’s cause in a bid to make merit (as the Buddhists would say), as I now feel I may have earned some bad karma!

    • June 4, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Elephants, like most herbivores, have stoibmyic bacteria in their gut that helps them break down their food. They are not born with these bacteria the only way for a calf to get them is to eat the faeces of its mother or other elephants. Some of the bacteria are excreted with the faeces, and by eating them the calf acquires the essential bacteria.Also, an elephant’s digestive system is not very efficient. What comes out is not that much different from what goes in it still contains some nutritional value that the gut failed to extract. Therefore, an elephant can eat another elephant’s (or its own) dung and gain some good from it. In order to compensate for this digestive inefficiency, elephants have to eat almost round the clock to ensure they get enough nutrition from their food.

  6. Amy
    March 13, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    I have more than one friend who has worked for years with elephants in Asia. Unfortunately, there are no really good tourist operations. Cruelty is deeply embedded in Asia elephant training — they don’t know any other way and view elephants differently than we do. I have no doubt that there are Asians who care about their elephants but they see them differently than we do — they are work animals and, especially in Thailand, have to earn their keep.

    You should check out Boon Lott’s. Not only do they rescue elephants, they hire their mahouts to care for them using compassionate methods —

    • March 13, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

      Awhh, I just took a look at that website. The pictures of the elephants are amazing. I remember being in Kenya and watching one elephant running back and forth from a lake to re-fill his trunk so he could spray a flock of birds. It was totally mischievous and very funny and cute to watch! I am so fascinated with them.

      In Goa (India), my partner went to an elephant sanctuary, and although he was not able to ride the elephant. They did allow him to sit on the elephant’s back and help wash her… I say h’he helped her’ loosely. Actually, it was more like she washed him! LOL! She was filling her trunk, then spraying it over her own back and he was getting soaked, but he was rubbing the water into her skin.

      I was SO JEALOUS at the time… I guess I let my desire to be close to elephants to override my common sense a little bit, and I have to confess to feeling terribly guilty now if I have contributed in some way to an industry which isn’t beneficial to elephants 😦

  7. Amy
    March 13, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    Emma — Don’t feel guilty. We are all learning. It’s natural to want to be close to elephants — they are such amazing beings (much more evolved than humans! 🙂 ).

    • March 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

      Thank you, but I am normally quite shrewd with things like this… I guess I left my common sense at home when I went out that day! I hope that my gut feelings that he did genuinely care deeply about Natalie were well founded. The taxi driver did seem to think it was the better place of the ones we saw, but as you say, Thais probably have different benchmarks of ‘decent’ and his subsequent recommendation of the monkey school certainly proved that! 😦

      • Amy
        March 13, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

        With elephants you really need to know what you’re looking at (other than really obvious physical conditions) to know if they’re happy and healthy. For instance, foot health is crucial — foot problems can kills eles — but beyond obvious injuries, deformities, etc., we laypeople can’t tell what state feet are in. So don’t beat yourself up. Again, we’re all learning.

        It would be wonderful if you would donate to EAI! Carol is the best. She and Dame Daphne Sheldrick are the world’s leaders in rescuing and rehabilitating elephants!

        Thank you so much!

      • March 13, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

        Amy, are you able to tell from these pictures whether ‘my’ Natalie was healthy? I would love to know that she was. I would feel a little bit better about my ignorance if I at least knew she wasn’t unhealthy

      • Amy
        March 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

        Emma — I don’t know enough even to make an uneducated guess but I can share this link with friends who do and ask them.

        One thing I do know is that those chairs they wear for people to sit on can be extremely uncomfortable and injure the eles in the long or short term — they can cause spinal injuries, etc., from carrying too-heavy loads for too long. You notice that they leave them on even when the eles are supposedly resting.

        Also — Natalie is only 10. Elephants’ lifespan is like that of humans. So Natalie is still only a kid. They probably took her from her mother very young (eles aren’t weaned until they’re 4 or 5) to begin her training.

        Did you notice how many feet they chained the eles by when they’re weren’t working? I can’t tell from the photos.

        I’ll send the link to a couple friends. It may take them a little while to get back to me but I’ll let you know what they think.

      • March 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

        Only one foot was chained. I feel rotten now… Poor Natalie-I would have taken her home if I could have! She was so lovely

      • Amy
        March 13, 2012 at 9:45 pm #

        Did they have water available to them?

      • March 13, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

        Is it awful that I can’t recall? To be honest, I really cannot remember-I wish I could! Would Natalie have been so ready to squirt the water at the other elephant rather than drink it instead if she were thirsty?

      • Amy
        March 13, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

        Not at all! You didn’t know what to look for and didn’t know that someone would be grilling you for details. 😉

        Yeah — I guess she might not squirt another ele if she were really, really thirsty.

      • March 13, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

        That’s made me feel a little bit better. Do you write a blog at all?

      • Amy
        March 13, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

        I don’t. I’m never sure if I have enough to say at one time and can be coherent enough lol.

        I did a guest blog for a friend a few years ago —

        and the Animal Planet news blogger used some of my photos —

        And, actually, I’m getting ready to go out to witness Ringling’s annual ele POW march this evening.

      • March 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

        That post almost made me cry. Those elephants did not look happy at all

      • Amy
        March 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

        They’re not happy. They’re beaten down and depressed. To tell you the truth, I don’t see much difference between circus eles and eles used for tourism in Asia, except the eles in Asia get to spend more time outdoors. Last night I was glad for the eles that at least it was a beautiful warm evening. That brief 40 minutes between the train and the bowels of the Verizon Center will be the only time they’re outdoors until they leave on Sunday. And then it’s on to the next destination.

        I heard back from one of my friends about Natalie: “Can’t really tell the elephants condition but, spraying water is a trained behavior to amuse the tourists. The elephant is too small to be doing rides.”

  8. Amy
    March 13, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    When you were in Kenya, did you visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust? They are amazing!!!

    • March 13, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

      Actually, I was only a child, so I am not too sure, but I could find out. It was on a safari (I think) I know that David Attenborough filmed at the place we visited at some point after we were there

  9. Amy
    March 13, 2012 at 7:48 pm #

    Carol is a friend of mine and, yes, I volunteer with EAI. You should read more about Carol — she and Tarra used to be in the circus and she went on to create the Sanctuary, which used to be the gold standard for elephant management in captivity. (Carol was ousted by the board of directors 2 years ago in a very ugly coups and she has not been allowed to see Tarra since then — and they’ve known each other for 36 years! But that’s another story.) But she will do amazing things in Asia, too!

    The Thai government…sigh.Corrupt, unfotunately. In the past weeks they have raided the Widlife Friends Foudnation of Thailand in retaliation for its founder speaking out against illegal ele trade —

  10. June 4, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    The poo has a large quantity of water and fiber (actually make paper from eleahpnt poo) so the eleahpnt might have done it to get a bit more to drink or something extra to eat.

    • June 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

      the dog ate it, not the elephant! But thanks for that slightly grim image 🙂

  11. Em
    January 23, 2017 at 10:01 pm #

    Please read up on the PHAJAAN (aka the Crush) Every single Elephant you ride has been through the torture of the PHAJAAN (crushing the Elephants spirit by abduction abuse, starvation & torture until they become useable for profit). Millions of tourists are fooled by the slight revamping of experiences that each camp/farm/trekking service provides but I promise you if you knew how to see the abuse hidden, you would never pay a single penny to be a part of this abuse as you have above.

    Each of these Elephants has been stolen from their mother & herd to be PHAJAAN trained to be useable for your Bucket list. Female Elephants never leave their herd by choice, it is always man who steals them. Male Elephants do leave their familial herd when they reach sexual maturity in order to seek non familial mates in order that the high-energy-output pregnancy (18-22months long) is viable & not likely to be miscarried or still born. But contrary to aged perceptions, Bulls (male Elephants) don’t live a completely solitary life, they join other males in groups where they learn from the elders as they migrate their habitat.

    Removing Elephants from their families is abhorrent no matter what spin people put on it or how they dress it up/tell themselves the place was kind. The abuse scars, malnourishment & ailments are visible in these photos.

    Thankfully (thanks to Lek Chailert of Elephant nature park- save the Elephant foundation), many trekking camps are now converting to ‘observe & feed only’ allowing Elephants their autonomy again, giving back a small part of what was stolen from them.


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