Everyone wants to ride an elephant when they travel to Asia. Including me. Unfortunately it was only afterwards that I learned the disturbing truth about this popular activity. All I thought about was how incredible it would be to sit atop a massive 9 foot tall, 4 ton beast while lumbering through the rivers and jungle of Bali. I couldn’t wait to get a photo of me riding on top of a massive elephant!
I did some research on the elephant park just outside of Ubud in Bali and it mentioned that the animals had been rescued from areas in Sumatra where many elephants were forced to work in harsh conditions. In my naiveté, I was convinced that they had it much better toting around tourists all day in Bali. So, without a second thought, I booked a tour to experience the elephants.
Once there, I was appointed the baby elephant to ride on. Even though it was a baby, it was huge once I got to stand next to it. I climbed onto a large chair like saddle that was strapped around the elephant’s belly and joined the line of elephants already carrying their squealing tourists. I handed my camera to the guide who then took photos of me on this little fellow as we walked through the dense jungle.
An elephant’s gait is not smooth and the entire ride felt like I was slowly being shaken up. The ride was uncomfortable, to say the least, and I was left wondering if there was any reason to ride an elephant other than just to say you had. Which really isn’t a good reason to do much of anything.
However there’s a dark side to elephant tourism that I was not aware of.
These animals had to be extensively trained to become docile ride givers and performers. I don’t know about the training methods used at the park I visited, but the training is often peppered with horrific abuse. While elephants are able to carry a significant amount of weight, the total load of the saddle, guide, and two or more passengers can easily overburden the beautiful animal. The weight, combined with the hours they are forced to cart people around, is often detrimental to the elephant’s physical and mental well being.
Have you ever done anything while travelling that you regretted later on?