ElephantVoices, a non-profit organization whose goals are to advance the study of elephant cognition, communication and social behavior, and to promote the scientifically sound and ethical management and care of elephants, posted the following article on their blog on September 9, 2010:

Have you ever thought that an elephant back safari must be the best and most exciting experience of all? That riding on one of these magnificent animals would be a unique adventure – believing that they are well suited for this kind of human entertainment?

The brutal truth is that most elephants are trained for elephant back rides or safaris through a practise no elephant owner will talk about. The elephants’ spirits are broken through unbelievably gruesome methods, while they are tied up or chained in a pen where they cannot move. With the help of systematic torture over days and weeks, often without water or food, an elephant learns that he or she has to obey human control. Later, at work, many mahouts use the bullhooks frequently to feel certain that the elephant does not annoy their customers, and stay in line. Beatings, wounds, painful body marks and blood is often seen even by the very tourists who are paying a high price to have the “experience of a lifetime”. The video below is from Burma, but the same type of procedure continues to be used in parts of Thailand. In Thailand this sad and highly abusive tradition is often called Phajaan.

The majority of elephants found in circuses and zoos were captured from the wild – the same goes for trekking elephants. The practice continues today, and with the growing number of tourists and many ignorant travel agencies and tour operators, the life and well being of hundreds of elephants both in Asia and in Africa is at stake….

One way you can help is by signing “A Petition to The Flight Centre Encouraging Corporate Responsibility“. Travel agencies that include elephant back rides and entertainment in their programs should be told that this is unacceptable. We believe that most tourists would stay far away if they knew what kind of treatment elephant goes through before they are ready for work. There are good places in Thailand where you can experience elephants close up, but you should never get on their back! The worst kind of brutality lays behind many other types of elephant entertainment, too, read more here on ElephantVoices and via online initiatives like Elemotion.

But the best way you can help is to convince friends who are considering going on an elephant ride or trek that they shouldn’t. If enough tourists stop expecting/demanding to ride elephants when they visit Southeast Asia, then the elephant owners will stop offering rides.  It’s a simple Supply-and-Demand relationship.

To find our more about ElephantVoices, or to see one example of phajaan filmed by Timothy Gorski, please visit their web site. Thank you.

-Windy Borman

Director/Producer The Eyes of Thailand