Getting up close and personal with an elephant is something that many people can only dream of doing. After all, in most parts of the world, you’re not likely to find an elephant just casually wandering the streets. For this reason, tourist attractions and getaways that feature the chance to ride or interact with an elephant seem like the ultimate excursion for animal lovers. Unfortunately, while on the surface sitting on an elephant’s back while trekking the jungle might seem like a harmless endeavor, there is a whole mountain of cruelty behind the elephant tourism industry.

Across Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, as well as other parts of Asia, these animals are captured from the wild and forced to perform tricks, paint, or carry people on their backs. Like all wild animals, elephants are not made to entertain people, rather these highly intelligent and emotional animals are perfectly adapted to spend the duration of their lives in their native habitat interacting with the members of their herds. Sadly, due to the popularity of elephant tourism, the life many lead is quite the opposite.

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In order to make elephants docile enough to train them to perform entirely unnatural feats, mahouts (elephant trainers) subject these gentle creatures to an extensive “breaking” process. After ripping young elephants from their mothers, mahouts lock the babies in chains and beat them repeatedly until they lose all will to fight back. This process can go on for weeks and at the end. Once they are rendered completely submissive, they’ll go on to be trained through starvation, fear, and pain to perform whatever the mahout wishes.

Elephants used in the trekking industry are forced to work all hours of the day and are rarely given breaks. Temperatures can easily surpass 100 degrees Fahrenheit and though elephants have adapted to keep cool, they need to have ready access to water and mud in order to protect themselves from exhaustion. Tragically, if there is a paying customer who wants a ride, these things are readily forgotten or rather, ignored. A recent story from Angkor Wat, Siem Reap in Cambodia shows what happens when the happiness of tourists is put above elephant welfare.

According to reports, this young elephant died of sheer exhaustion while carrying people at the Angkor Wat temple. 

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In a post about the news, Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation writes, “Angkor Wat is a huge temple complex with steep hills and it is no wonder that given the temperatures and the weights the animals are forced to carry that these endangered elephants die. This is simply not what these amazing creatures are built for.”

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The fact is, elephants, like all animals,were not created for the sole purpose of our entertainment and when we force them to be this, it can have an extremely devastating impact. The saddest part about this scene is the fact that there are hundreds of elephants who succumb to a similarly painful end every single year. The only way we can prevent this from happening is by raising awareness for the true cruelty behind elephant trekking and all animal attractions.

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All image source: EARS/Facebook