Elephant at ENP

Why You Should Not Ride Elephants

Elephants at ENP

When you type the search terms “why you should not ride elephants” into a Google search, over 2,000,000 results are returned.

I’m adding to that number with this blog post.


Too many people continue to ride elephants, unaware of the abuse the elephants have suffered and are suffering.

Elephants at ENP

I’m an unabashed animal lover. I have a soft heart when it comes to all animals. I cannot bear to see them suffer, especially when it’s at the hands of humans.

Elephants, dog, and me at ENP

Yet, that’s the ironic part. Many people who ride elephants do it because they’re animal lovers, who want an up-close and personal experience with an elephant. It’s easy to hear about a wildlife experience, like riding an elephant, petting a tiger, or swimming with a dolphin and think how incredible that would be.

But, behind the potential excitement, an uncomfortable feeling always nagged at me. I’ve had to ask myself how it’s possible to get that close to a wild animal that would otherwise be a threat in the wild. What has happened or is happening to that animal to allow for this “incredible experience?”

In the case of elephant riding, unsuspecting tourists don’t realize what the elephant has endured/is enduring so they can ride on its back.

Elephants at ENP

It’s called “the crush” or otherwise known as “breaking the elephant’s spirit.

It’s during this “process” when the elephant, typically a baby, is caged, restrained, and beaten with a hook until it submits…or is broken.

Elephants at ENP

There are gut-wrenching, unbearable videos online depicting the “crush”, but the baby elephant in this award-winning photo (Graphic Image) speaks loudly and clearly.

Which elephants suffer through this process?

Elephants used for trekking (riding) through the jungle, logging, street begging, performing, and painting are usually captured from the wild as babies and subjected to “the crush.”

Elephant Baby at ENP

Once in these industries, elephants have to bear the use of a hook (and worse) to “correct bad behavior.” They’re often shackled at the ankles with metal restraints and made to continually feel fear.

Elephants in trekking camps can be forced to wear a chair without ever taking it off. Elephants in other tourism jobs are frequently denied food unless they perform.

Trekking Elephant in Cambodia

Elephant trekking is big business and money talks. If tourists continue to pay for elephant rides, baby elephants will continue to be captured from the wild and broken.

What can you do?

Spread the word! Whether or not you are traveling to Asia, you can inform others. Once people understand what has to happen in order for them to ride an elephant and the abuse that continues afterward, minds can change quickly!

Elephants at ENP

If you are traveling to Asia, Don’t Ride Elephants!

Spend your tourist money to visit true elephant sanctuaries, like Elephant Nature Park about an hour and a half north of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

A sanctuary is defined as a place of refuge or asylum. If an elephant “sanctuary” lets you ride elephants, it’s NOT a sanctuary. If the elephants are expected to perform, it’s NOT a sanctuary.

This is an informative blog post by Richelle at Adventures Around Asia, where she details her visit to another popular “sanctuary” near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Elephant love at ENP

What is Elephant Nature Park?

I was lucky enough to spend 2 separate overnights there, combining for 4 full days.

Elephant Nature Park takes in abused elephants from the logging and tourism industries and provides a haven where they can live their lives freely with other elephants.

Elephant Mom and Baby at ENP

Tip: If you want to visit Elephant Nature Park, book early. By early, I mean at least a few months ahead of your scheduled visit!

Two things about the elephants at Elephant Nature Park standout.

If you’re at all skeptical about the abuse elephants suffer, a visit to Elephant Nature Park will show you, firsthand, the elephants’ physical and psychological scars.

Elephants had broken backs from wearing riding chairs 24 hours a day. They’re not meant to carry the weight of an endless stream of tourists for jungle rides day after day.

Elephants at ENP

Some elephants had poorly healed, dislocated shoulders and wounded feet from wearing metal restraints around the ankle.

There were even blind elephants. Some in this condition because of the damage done by circus spotlights. I even met one poor elephant who was forcefully blinded by a former mahout (caretaker!) with a slingshot. She tried to retaliate against him for keeping her captive so the slingshot was to make her fearful and more submissive.

Elephants at ENP

Other elephants rock and sway from psychological scars, while a couple of others prefer to remain alone (contrary elephant behavior), untrusting and fearful.

But….There was something else.

Elephants at ENP

You will undoubtedly notice how happy the elephants are now at Elephant Nature Park. Not only are they being well-cared for, but many of them are also getting to “be elephants” for the first time in their lives.

Elephants at ENP

These rejuvenated elephants have formed herds who love to eat (and eat!), play in the river, roll in the mud, and roam freely around the sanctuary.

Elephants at ENP

Spend just a short time observing the elephants and you will see how social, intelligent and emotional they are. They care for one another and are especially protective of their young. They squeal and trumpet to one another and touch each other’s trunks as a sign of affection.

Elephants eating at ENP

What does a visitor to Elephant Nature Park do?

You’ll get to feed the elephants. They eat a lot! You’ll walk alongside the elephants and learn their stories. You’ll have a chance to help bathe them in the river. Mostly though, you’ll have the time to be among the elephants and observe their interactions with one another.

Elephant bath at ENP

If you stay overnight, you’ll do a private elephant walk in the morning, where you and your small group will visit and observe the elephants while the park is still quiet and free from day visitors.

Water buffalo and Elephant at ENP

You’ll also help out in the elephant kitchen preparing food to feed to the elephants later.

Preparing Elephant food at ENP

Elephant Nature Park has also rescued hundreds of cats and dogs. You can spend time visiting them at Cat Kingdom and Dog Palace.

Dog at ENP

“Elephants are honest” our overnight guide, Apple, told the group. “You know how they’re feeling.”

I thrilled to have had such an immersive experience with elephants. They exhibited tangible and observable happiness and joy from living at the sanctuary with other elephants. Even more, I felt an immense amount of hope by seeing the elephants’ spirits’ returning to life and their ability to trust again.

Elephant at ENP

Have you had an elephant experience? Would you like to visit Elephant Nature Park? 

Like this post? Please help spread the word about not riding elephants by using the social media share buttons below.

22 thoughts on “Why You Should Not Ride Elephants”

  1. This was a bit sad to read (ironically I just watched Water for Elephants last night so I’m a little extra sensitive) but it was really informative. I’ll make sure I don’t ride them. Thank God for people who spend their time and energy helping rehabilitate abused elephants.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Yes, Francesca, it’s so sad to learn the elephants’ stories. I felt the same way, though. I was so impressed by how well-run and passionate the people are at Elephant Nature Park.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing my post with your readers! I definitely don’t want anyone else making the same mistake I did. Trust bloggers, not Trip Advisor! Also, I can’t agree more with your comment about booking early to Elephant Nature Park, especially in high season. I wanted to go so bad, and it was sold out an entire month in advance. I managed to go this summer though and it was amazing!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks Richelle for shedding some light on one of the other supposed “elephant sanctuaries” near Chiang Mai. I agree. People need to do their research when it comes to wildlife experiences. I’m glad you made it to ENP. It was an absolute highlight of my trip!

  3. A big regret of mine from my last backpacking jaunt in Southeast Asia (in 2010) was that I rode an elephant. I wish travel blogs were as en vogue then as they are now – because so many travel bloggers have urged their readers not to ride elephants. I didn’t have the information then as I do now.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for sharing your story Rashaad. It’s so important just to spread the word to inform others and now that you know, you’re helping too!

  4. Thanks for this post! I saw elephants being beaten in India so tourists could ride them up a hill and vowed I’d never ride an elephant and promote this cruel industry ( along with dancing bears, swimming with dolphins and paying to see captive monkeys dance on chains in Vietnam) But I’d love to see an elephant up close so will definitely try to visit Elephant Nature Park.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks Michele for sharing your elephant story from India. That sounds horrible and I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done had I actually witnessed an elephant being beaten! It’s so important for people to think about what made it possible for them to ride an elephant or swim with a dolphin or pet a tiger. Elephant Nature Park is doing exceptional work and I so hope you can make it there!

  5. Thank god for Elephant Nature Park! I went on a tour when I first visited Thailand in 2011 which involved an elephant show. I had no idea it was included in it and I felt terrible for seeing it. I have heard a lot about these sanctuaries near Chiang Mai and it’s great to hear how positive it is there. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks Alice for your comments. Elephant Nature Park is an amazing place. The elephants wouldn’t have anywhere to go, except back to a brutal life of fear and imprisonment. I’ve heard there are some elephant parks near ENP that are slowly incorporating more humane practices, but if you want to visit a complete sanctuary where the elephants can actually be elephants, ENP is the only place to go.

  6. It took months and several different trips to Asia before I found an elephant reserve that I felt good about giving my money and support to. It is SO sad that too many people aren’t aware of the animal treatment and will do anything for a bucket list item or awesome photo. PLEASE people, do your homework!!! I’m So glad I finally came across Elefantastic in India, or else I may have left Asia still pining for that experience http://www.economicalexcursionists.com/elefantastic/

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for the info about Elefantastic in India. That is another country with my abuses against elephants. I will be sure to check it out. I couldn’t agree more how important it is for people to do their homework before paying to have experiences like this. Thanks for your comment!

  7. Good post. I hate it when animals are used for tourist attractions. I understand when its been part of their culture for 100 + years but to use and abuse them just to make a few bucks on dumb travelers is where i draw the line. We also spent some time in Malaysia on a elephant reserve working a press trip. It was something to see how a place that calls it self a reserve would use the elephants to make money, to me that’s not a reserve.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks, David. I agree that animals shouldn’t be used for tourist attractions. People need to think of how the animals have been and are being treated in order for this “amazing” experience to happen. The sanctuary in Thailand is just that, even though people pay to visit. The money is a necessary evil in order to properly care for the elephants, as well as rescue others and even assist additional outreach programs. Keep in mind that the money also goes toward housing and feeding volunteers. It’s so important to do your homework, though, and be sure any money you pay to visit a reserve or sanctuary goes directly toward the care of the animals.

  8. thank you! I looked for something to support my thinking and found you and this great article. I think we are very different and I don’t have the urge for travelling nor I feel I am anything like a tourist. However life has instead brought me to places and one thing I know is while moving around we have to carry a good load of respect. This is what I sense it is lacking in this euphoria for travelling and tourism.
    This article brought me back to a couple of years ago visiting Petra my shoes got broken and I walked 2Km barefoot in over 40C on dirt paths and refused to be carried by any of the animal transport available (donkeys, camels, horses).
    We all need to be more responsible and not always put our human frivolities before the environment, humans, animals and nature. Just my thought.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thank you so much for reading the article. Agreed, Tania. Humans, animals, nature…we’re all here on the planet together and we absolutely have to respect one another. Travelers absolutely need to always respect the place, people, customs, animals, and environment they’re visiting.

  9. Hello Jackie
    Thanks for that wonderful article and reminder about the elephants. We are going to India next month and I was looking for places to see the elephants in a sanctuary setting. We have settled on Wildlife SOS near Agra. When I was researching, I was reading alot of great reviews of Elefantastic in Jaipur. But I have a suspicion that those elephants are hired out during the morning to transport tourists up to the fort, and then come home to tourists petting/riding/and painting them in the afternoon. I can’t find any evidence online (only glowing reviews) but….I wondered if you know anything about that establishment? I would appreciate any information.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Hi Pam and thanks for reading! I’m glad to hear you’re doing your research about those elephants in Jaipur. I don’t have any particular info on Elefantastic, but I do know you should avoid riding elephants or using organizations that hire out elephants for that ride up to the fort. Hopefully, this at least confirms the direction you’re headed. Good luck!

    2. Thanks Jackie/When I get back from India I will try to remember to post some info about Wildlife SOS (near Agra) for you and any of your readers who might be looking for a sanctuary to visit in India.

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