A few weeks ago, I was blessed to be apart of the Elephant Nature Park foundation's program called Journey to Freedom, and it was life changing. I am also proud to say that I am an advocate for elephants and I hope this post helps you understand why these gentle giants need advocates. This article might be difficult to read because of upsetting context. 


Before I go into detail, let me quickly paint the image of an elephant in the wild. They eat a diet of over 70 types of plants and they spend 20 hours of the day eating. They travel in families and are extremely social creatures. The babies have at least one nanny who helps the mother raise them. Elephants love to play in the mud and enjoy being constantly covered in dirt because it acts as a mosquito and fly repellent. Elephants live as long as people and are probably more emotional and caring. They definitely treat each other nicer than people do!

About 100 years in Thailand there were over 100,000 elephants. Now there are only 5,000, half of which are living in captivity. These elephants live a life catered towards the tourist industry. They work as street performers, street beggars, in the circus or shows, painters, and in the trekking industry. Trekking is when you can pay to sit on the back of an elephant or go swimming with them and bathe them. All of which is animal abuse. 

Let me explain what happens in these industries and share some of the stories of these elephants. Hopefully after reading this post, you will understand what these elephants go through and you too will be become a responsible tourist! 

Street Beggars: These elephants spend their lives in cities. Most will become blind from the city lights or end up getting seriously injured by cars or sewage holes. The elephants end up having a diet of street food, soda, or solely yellow bananas- which is like if you only ate pure sugar for your whole life. If these animals aren’t injured or killed by the city lifestyle, a lot of them die from starvation.

Performers/ Circuses: The elephants are horribly abused and beaten so that they can be trained to do non-natural acts like jump or stand on their hind legs. They are beaten so that they behave and have to perform countless hours a day. They stay in horrible conditions and eat the horrible diets that the street beggars have to. Many of the elephants that face these conditions end up becoming mentally unstable and suffer back and leg injuries that keep them unable to walk.

Trekking: People think that because elephants are so large that they are easily able to carry people. However, this is NOT true. Some trekking companies advertise that they don’t use metal sets and you sit on the elephant necks so they don’t suffer… this is also not true. A lot of these elephants end up either breaking their backs, breaking their legs, or their joints. They don’t have time to eat or bathe because they end up giving 5-10 rides a day.

Bathing Elephants: Some trekking companies advertising that they just let you bathe the elephants so it is humane. Again, false. Elephants need mud and dirt on their skin. The elephants at these companies end up getting their skin rubbed and scrubbed at least 5 times a day, resulting in elephant’s skin literally breaking off of them. Elephant skin is about an inch thick, but extremely sensitive. Elephants should not be bathed!

Painting: Elephant painting is not natural. To train an elephant to do this, a metal hook is jabbed into their skin behind their ears. At the ENP we saw an elephant that was a painter and for months after being rescued, the elephant was caught moving it’s trunk in circles while it was sleeping, as if it was being forced to paint. 

Don’t give money to these horrible organizations! If you would like to interact with elephants in an ethical way, check out the Elephant Nature Park. You can read about my experience here.

While the work is horrible, the way elephants are "broken" even worse. First, baby elephants are taken from their mothers and nannies. Just so you know, female elephants that have had their babies taken from them end up going crazy and suffer serious mental problems. Just like humans, you should never take a baby from its mother. So, to take an elephant from their mom, lots of times this means that poachers have to kill the mom and nanny to even get to the baby. Then the torture begins. It is called crushing. 

This process was made to break the elephant’s soul. Remember, elephants are wild animals. It is not normal for them to interact with people in any way! If they are interacting with you, even you feeding them bananas, that means they have probably been through this process. 


Source of Photo: Avaaz 

Crushing was made so that elephants lose their spirit to allow tourists to interact with them. Crushing is a process where the crushers tie the elephants in a rope sling constricting their whole body, to the point where they are unable to stand properly.The ropes are tied so tight for so long causing horrible burns and rotting of the skin around the neck, ears, tails, legs, and trunk. Elephants end up having to go to the bathroom on themselves and end up getting infections.


Source of Photo: Veg Friend

Elephants are just like humans who have wise minds and souls. They are forced to go through this horrible process not only so the elephant is trained to obey people, but so they forget their mothers and family. These horrible people have to tie up the trunks of elephants so that they do not commit suicide. That’s right. The abuse is so horrible that the elephants have been known to step on their own trunks to suffocate themselves, because death is better than this horrible abuse. After a week or two of crushing, elephants are now zombified ready to obey people and start their lives working.

Please share this knowledge! We have to become responsible tourists if we want to stop this horrible abuse. Don’t ride elephants, don’t buy elephant paintings, help these elephants live healthy and happy lives! Stay educated and become an advocate. 

Published by Bernadette Hopen