The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel
ASIAN ELEPHANTS: WHY RIDING IS WRONG
It is one of the most evocative sights on this vast continent: the Asian elephant, sturdy legs planted in the mud, spraying water over itself on a hot afternoon. Rarely does any creature look quite as noble at bath time.
And yet, while the elephant’s nobility is widely recognised in Asia – the animal is a longstanding symbol of royalty, and the elephant-headed god Ganesha is a key figure in the Hindu pantheon – the sense of respect does not always go as far as treating them kindly. Sanctuaries that purport to look after them often do anything but that. And the elephant ride – long a bucket-list staple of a break in Asia – can be a dubious adventure, underpinned by an absence of care and often by abuse.
So, if the opportunity presents itself to ride an elephant, should you? The responsible answer is no. While an elephant whose prime “job” is to carry tourists around for money is almost certainly being saved from more exploitative forms of “employment” (such as illegal logging), it may still be in poor health.
Perhaps the safest route is to follow the example of ethical tour operator Responsible Travel (01273 823700; responsibletravel. com), which takes the line that “riding an elephant is an unnecessary activity which contributes to the harsh treatment of the elephant and capture of wild elephants”.
The company stopped promoting elephant-back safaris, even in national parks, in 2019. It also casts a careful eye over elephant sanctuaries, endorsing only those it believes provide the requisite levels of care, including a ban on rides (for a full list of those it does and does not support, see the company’s website). Possible holidays include a six-day elephant conservation break near Mae Sot, in western Thailand, from £450 per person, excluding flights.