Why We Stopped Riding Elephants - Be Kind. Be Intrepid

To source elephants for elephant riding, young elephants have their parents shot and

then the babies are taken and tortured, literally tortured, until they submit to

humans and that torture involves a lot of beating, a lot of starvation.

The elephant will then be submissive and will be open to the training by humans.

The training itself is then still quite barbarous. There will be a lot of

infliction of pain on the elephant to get them to do whatever it is.

My name’s Geoff Manchester. I’m one of the co-founders and directors of Intrepid Travel

and I was the first ever Intrepid leader, so I guess

I was the first Intrepid person to take people elephant riding.

We were talking to world animal protection, and through talking with them

we then decided it that we would give them some money to research the use of

elephants and other animals in tourism in Thailand.

They found of one hundred and eighteen establishments that they studied, of these only six treated the elephants at

all humanely. So that’s when we started thinking about: “Hey can elephant riding

be done in a decent and humane way?” And it can’t. And so we’ve just ceased doing it.

Today we’re going to the Elephant Nature Park just outside Chiang Mai.

This place feels like a real sanctuary and they rescue elephants that have had tough

lives working. We were lucky enough to meet Lek, the founder of the nature park.

It’s obvious in the way Lek interacts with the elephants that they completely trust her,

and have a sense that she has saved them or is a friend.

My name is Lek Chailer. I am the founder of Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai, Thailand.

When we rescue elephants, some of them have worked for humans for more than six or seven decades,

so when they arrive here we will start to research their history and talk about

the previous owner. Many of them come very skinny and a lot of wounds and

infections around the body. More than 80% arrive with a huge

mental problem. Some of them stand still like a zombie, their eyes empty.

Some of them are very aggressive and angry.

When we have the money we can, we have the right to use our money to

entertain ourselves but the animals are suffering. I don’t blame people because they don’t know.

because they don’t know. While people love the idea of elephant riding,

it’s not actually that pleasant to do: sitting on the back of an elephant,

you’re miles away from it itself, but walking next to it, it can see you

and feel safe being with you. So Lek has the incredible empathy in the way

that she interacts with the elephants and it really brings out their

characters and their personality and their humour.

For us and all the elephants staying here, they’re like my family members.

If you allow them to be free you will see a lot of emotions from them. Elephants are

like our kids. They want to play. They want to run. They want to roam free.

They want to roam free. There was one elephant that we met whose

story stuck with me. So it used to live in a neighbouring park and it used to run

here every day. It was chained up but it used to get here every day and they

would have to keep taking it back to its other owners and then it would come

again the next day, and they’d keep taking it back. And in the end the owner

was like “Fine, just buy the elephant off me, take it.” And so they bought this

elephant and brought it here and unchained it and now it lives in the park.

It’s put on heaps of weight and it hangs out with another elephant, and

they’re really close now. It was just a really nice story of the elephant

choosing to live here. But elephants stay as a herd. No one understands an

elephant as elephant understands each other. It’s not about us.

We've got some happy elephants having breakfast! By us ceasing elephant riding

then gradually just a few others stop elephant riding, and then more momentum

then grew. You know, I have to thank Intrepid, you know, and many

companies in Australia that lead other big companies in the world.

The big step was when Trip Advisor stopped having reviews of elephant riding

on their website. They eventually succumbed and took it off, and

that was a big win I guess. It’s just the start of something that will hopefully

eventuate in elephant riding ceasing altogether, and that might be 10 years or

it might be 20 years, but eventually that should happen.