A few weeks ago, I went on a trip to Borneo, Malaysia with my grade for a school trip. This trip was very educational for me because I learned a lot about endangered animals and it opened my eyes to a lot of things I never thought was relevant to our world. The facility that we stayed at the first two nights was a rehabilitation centre for endangered animals, but their main focus were orangutans and sun bears. The guide talked to our group about how harmful taming wild animals can be. What affected me the most, however, was what I learned about elephant riding.
Elephant riding is a popular attraction in Asian countries such as Thailand, India, and Bangladesh. It seems like a fun and harmless thing to do, but it does affect the elephant in many ways. Elephants are big, strong creatures and they rule the places they live in. Wild elephants are extremely hard and dangerous to tame. It can be life threatening to humans. In order to train them, 'mahout' (elephant trainers) must crush their spirit – starting from when they are still babies.
It starts with going into the wild and killing the baby elephant's mother in front of them. Then the babies are thrown into crates that are too small and uncomfortable for them. They are left there for several weeks, months even. The mahout starves them and makes them sleep deprived for days. The elephants are released from the cages as soon as they are big enough to carry people.
Have you ever heard of the saying that an elephant never forgets? It's true.
While the baby elephant is being tortured, there is a consistent tapping noise on the crate. If the elephant starts to misbehave in front of the customers, the mahout taps the same stick against a hard surface to trigger the elephant's memory of when they were younger. The fear of that happening to them again drives them to obey the mahout's orders.
Elephants may seem very powerful, but their backs are not meant to support human weight. According to Carol Buckley of Elephant Aid International, “Instead of smooth, round spinal disks, elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. These bony protrusions and the tissue protecting them are vulnerable to weight and pressure coming from above.”
If you have ever been on an elephant, you probably sat on one of those metal chairs that are on top of their backs. This is very harmful to them. Over time, the elephant's spine starts to curve downwards, causing severe long-term damage.
Elephant training is a huge problem in countries such as Thailand and it is causing wild elephants to become extinct. You can help with this situation by raising awareness and by not going elephant riding. This will cause the demand to decrease. You don't have to be ashamed if you have ridden an elephant before because not many people are aware of what these majestic animals have to go through during “training”. Elephant riding is still popular as ever. This means that elephants are still being abused. Please generate awareness and let elephants live as they were meant to.
The writer is a Grade 8 student of International School Dhaka.