Elephant Riding in Phuket, Thailand
As a tourist I was eager for an elephant ride while in Phuket, Thailand. Since then I’ve considered the positive and negative aspects of this tourist attraction.
- A Fascination with Elephants
- Riding in Phuket
- Elephants are Not Born to Perform
- Considering Both Sides of the Story
A Fascination with Elephants
Ever since I was a little girl taken by my father to feed elephants grazing when the circus visited town, I have been fascinated by elephants. Consequently when I discovered that elephant riding was one of the shore trips available while on our recent cruise, I nagged at my husband until he agreed. I wanted to ride an elephant.
The ride lived up to expectations. I grinned the whole while I was up there on the great beast. It was only after, watching a show of trained elephants doing tricks I felt a little uneasy about asking such wonderful animals to perform for an audience.
Riding in Phuket
During the ride itself, there was nothing to take away my pleasure at being carried along a short path by an elephant. The young rider sat in front while my hubsand and I were perched on a seat attached to the elephant. Climbing aboard was easier than we anticipated, simply transporting ourselves from the tower where the elephant stood patiently onto its back. The elelphants ambled off down the track, carrying their riders and tourists from our tour group. I was delighted to be able to lean down and touch the elephant’s tough wrinkled skin from time to time.
Before the short journey we were encouraged to buy bananas when stopped along the way. Elephants apparently need to consume up to 500 kg of vegetation daily. We stopped at the stall beside the path, purchased our bananas and enjoyed it when the elephant’s trunk automatically came up, reaching for them.
Elephants are Not Born to Perform
It wasn’t until we’d completed the ride and were taken to the elephant show that I started feeling uneasy. These elephants had been trained to do tricks that were obviously unnatural for an elephant. I watched silently as elephants shot basketball and soccer goals and stood on their two hind legs, or balanced on a small stool. The reality of training elephants began entering my mind. Call me naive if you like, but it wasn’t until talking to others later in the trip I realised that training an elephant meant forcing it to do something unnatural.
Considering Both Sides of the Story
Since arriving home I’ve made an effort to read more about elephant riding, and now realise there are both positive and negative points.
Lets think of the positive points first. Elephants are the largest living land animals on earth and are fast becoming a dying breed, mainly because of the disappearance of their natural habitats. In Thailand there are no longer tin and rubber plantations and so suddenly elephants became surplus to requirements after having been working animals for centuries. By becoming part of the tourist industry they have had a chance of longer survival, of obtaining sufficient food on a daily basis and of contributing to the economy. However, is this really enough?
Although the elephants we saw looked well cared for and healthy, what unnatural processes had they undergone to achieve the relatively tame state they were in. I’ve read that methods of training elephants are particularly cruel. Elephants are also in danger of being over worked and abused to achieve the tricks I witnessed. Elephants need a lot of rest and don’t like being out in the sunlight, which is why I guess most of the childhood stories I read involved elephants at waterholes at night.
As mentioned earlier, elephants need at least 500 kg of vegetation a day to survive. No longer able to be in their natural habitat, they are in danger of consuming the wrong diet. More apparently die of lack of proper nutrition than of old age.
I have to confess I enjoyed my elephant ride. But I also now have an increased awareness of what has probably occurred in order to provide this tourist attraction. Before you rush off to have an elephant ride as I did, think about both sides of the story before making your decision.