In Thailand, this was one of those touristy things I was somewhat reluctant to do at first (at $50 it was easily the most expensive thing I did, and that includes my flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok) but I’m super glad I did do it in the end. I’ve seen pictures of friends/others doing elephant rides in Thailand and thought it’d be a waste of money. In short, it’s nice to see that my money went to a good cause and the elephants are in a good place.
Apparently riding on an elephant is not the best thing for them. Riding on their necks is perfectly okay, but saddle those beasts up and throw three people on their backs as they do in some places and their spines cave in and severely shorten their lifespan and worsen their quality of life. These places persist because A) they’re cheaper than what I paid for B) because they don’t feed the animals what they require although C) they work them crazy even on empty stomachs. I went to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and (so they say) treat them properly. There’s no riding them at all. The young never grow up with hard labor, and their lifespan improves dramatically.
Playing with these animals was great fun and for whatever it’s worth, and however cheesy it is, I will have a lifelong connection to them. I got to pet them, hug them, feed them, bathe them. Their shit was thrown at me (seriously.) I “washed” my skin in their dirty shit water. Yes, I’m serious. And then rinsed off in a river.
One reason I don’t really like zoos, is that no matter their intentions, the animals can’t be treated as they should in such cramped spaces. And further the intended goal of getting people actually interested in these beautiful creatures is hardly fulfilled. How many people genuinely went to a zoo, and afterwards felt any activist-inducing passion for the polar bear walking around 110-degree concrete? Who saw Shamu and felt the need to help orcas? (nobody otherwise that animal/those animals would’ve been free eons ago.) But here I am talking about it, sharing in on FB and hopefully someday being able to donate. Yes it’s all talk, perhaps menial, but it’s more than most zoos can do.
These types of reserves or sanctuaries or whatever you want to call it are amazing. It brings people to the animals. It keeps animals (largely) in their homes. And it gives them a suitable habitat and love. These are not entirely feasible on a mass scale and this I get. Between here and the super famous Wolong Nature Reserve I went to in China with pandas, I get the sense they are much more capable at achieving their goals than a zoo. They treat the animals better and actually give the viewers a closer experience with the animal. Save the pandas! Save the elephants! Save the rhinos!!! (Oh, they might be beyond hope actually…)
Like what you’re reading on Thailand? Check out some other related articles in: The Thailand Chronicles!