I try to be a responsible traveller and do my best to support local people, community enterprises, and dedicate my time to long-term volunteering. But I’m guilty of something. I have engaged in bad tourism practice by riding on the back of an elephant during an overnight jungle trek in Cambodia. The trek was promoted as Eco Tourism where elephants are treated well and are free to roam around the jungle at night.
Even though I only sat on the back of the elephant for the river crossings, I felt really guilty about it. There was something that was bugging me about this whole experience. Despite showing great affection towards the elephant otherwise, when the elephant kept wondering off into the jungle to eat, the elephant guide could only get him back on track by hitting him with a wooden stick. At night the elephant was indeed allowed to roam around the jungle, but only with a bamboo sling wrapped around its front legs, so it could only hop and not go away too far.
A few months later I visited an animal sanctuary outside of Phnom Penh, which provides a home to rescued animals suffering from abuse. I saw an elephant who had part of his leg amputated due to mistreatment in the tourism industry. Another elephant couldn’t even stand up anymore due to a spine injury. Despite their sheer size elephant’s spines are not made to support the weight of humans, so riding them can seriously damage their spines long-term. But there is an even darker side to elephant tourism that many people are not aware of…
Wild elephants need to be tamed before they can be ridden. Unlike with horses, the taming process with elephants is very brutal. In order to tame a wild elephant, it is tortured as a baby to completely break its spirit. The process is called Phajaan, or “the crush”. It involves ripping the baby elephant away from their mothers and confining them in a very small space where they’re unable to move. If they don’t follow orders the baby elephants are beaten into submission with clubs or sharp bull-hooks. Even adult elephants are being beaten with these horrific hooks so that they can be controlled.
Riding an elephant injures them, violates their personal freedom and makes them unhappy. After finding out about these things I vowed never to engage in such bad practices ever again and would like to try and discourage other tourists from taking part in elephant riding activities too.
This is why I am proud to take part in the 2014 Travel Blogging Calendar project. It is a charitable project that was put together by over 20 travel bloggers in order to raise money to support the Save Elephant Foundation, a reserve for Asian elephants who have been rescued from the tourism industry. All proceeds will go towards buying new land for the park and building new shelters for the elephants. Currently the park is unable to rescue any more animals because they are at full capacity.
How can you help?
If you donate to the Save Elephant Foundation through our project, you are automatically entered into a raffle to win a US$3,300 holiday to Thailand! Flight Network has donated a $2000 flight voucher and the eco-friendly tour company Where Sidewalks End will take you on a one-week tour in Thailand where you will even be able to visit the Save Elephant Foundation in Chiang Mai!
Please consider a small gift to help Lek, the founder of the Elephant Sanctuary, to continue the amazing work she does, even if you just share this post on social media. To support this worthwhile project and to find out more information about taking part in the raffle please visit the Travel Blogging Calendar website.