'There is no such thing as cruelty-free elephant rides.'
Sambo had been walking for about 40 minutes in scorching heat before she collapsed. Credit: Facebook
It may look cool to get your photo snapped while riding an elephant in the jungle, but there’s a horrifying backstory that accompanies each and every elephant used in Asia’s tourism industry.
Because elephants in the wild wouldn’t normally allow a human to ride them, babies are captured and endure traumatic beatings to ‘break’ their spirit. The process is called Phajaan, or “the crush.”
A young elephant is ripped away from its mothers and confined in a very small space, such as a cage or a hole in the ground, where it is unable to move. Then, the youngster is beaten into submission with clubs, pierced with sharp bull-hooks, and simultaneously starved and deprived of sleep for many days. A disturbing video of the process can be viewed here.
And, the horrific treatment doesn’t end after being tamed. Many elephant camps continue to employ bull-hooks to control the animals. According to Elephant Nature Park (ENP), a sanctuary for abused elephants in Thailand, it’s the fear of being stabbed that’s used to motivate them to work.
Unfortunately, most are unaware of this cruel reality. In effect, tourists continue to flock to locations like Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and eagerly pay good money to trek through the ancient temples on the back of an elephant.
Every now and again, however, the abuse an elephant has endured catches up to them and exposes the cruel industry.
Last Friday, a female elephant between the ages of 40 and 45, named Elderly Sambo, was giving tourists a ride in 40 degrees C heat when she collapsed. According to The Phnom Penh Post, the elephant had fatigued in the scorching heat and had suffered a fatal heart attack which killed her.
The mature elephant had been working for the Angkor Elephant Company since 2001. Oan Kiri, the manager of the company, told the press that the company is saddened by her loss.
“After our veterinarian checked… we concluded that she died of heart attack due to high temperatures and lack of wind,” he said.
As a result of the incident, thousands of people are calling for an end to wildlife tourism rides in the Cambodian park. A Change.org petition, which has already been signed by 52,400 people, reads:
“A cruel tourist attraction that is proven to be harmful to elephants, and can only damage the tourism industry of Cambodia, must finally come to an end.
The recent death of an elephant, used for tourist rides, at the Angkor temples should be the final wake-up call for the community and tourism industry to take the steps needed to end this horrific practice.
There is no such thing as cruelty-free elephant rides.”
It is estimated that there are only 2,000 Asian elephants left in Thailand. Help protected this endangered animal and put an end to the cruel industry by sharing this article, signing the petition, and commenting your thoughts below.