It's Monday and time to address the elephant in the room. And yes, that was lame. And yes, I am also jumping on a band wagon here after a recent incident that was in the news, but after all this blog is called The Midnight Blue Elephant, so I won't apologize for either.
If you care to read my little about me page, you will learn that a) my favorite animals are in fact not elephants, but giraffes. Nevertheless I still really like elephants and so b) I would never ride an elephant (or wear elephant pants, but that's neither here nor there).
Till very recently I couldn't even have given you a proper reason, it was more just a feeling that there was something about the concept that felt wrong to me. Mind you, I am not a vegan so I guess it is a little hypocritical and I never made a fuss about it, never told other people not to do it, and just decided for myself it wasn't something I wanted to spend my money on.
Last year I visited the Friends of the Asian Elephant with Intrepid, a hospital where sick elephants are taken care of and a few, that have lost limbs due to stepping on landmines during logging, live permanently. After this I realized that the one place I really wanted to visit was the Elepant Sanctuary near Chiang Mai to learn about them and to just be with elephants.
I was happy that Julia was keen on Chiang Mai as well on our trip last month and I booked our elephant visit. Unfortunately I got food poisoning the night before so my visit was off and I was so upset about it that I wanted to forget all about elephants and this post for a while.*
That was until yesterday when I read about Nikki Beach in Phuket and their use of baby elephants as amusement park entertainment for their guests. I will be the first to admit that places with overpriced sunloungers & drinks with wannabe fancy people on a beach in Phuket were never my ideal idea of a holiday, so I was a little prejudiced already, but reading this really took the cake. Within hours of posting pictures of the party to their facebook page they were facing a PR nightmare and only made it worse by having some inapt staff member explain the whole situation as being part of thai culture.
I sincerely doubt that it was ever a thai tradition to have a baby elephant be abused for horsey play of drunk rich people, but what bothers me almost more is the excuse of horrid behavior with tradition. Simply not all traditions are good traditions and therefore worth conserving. Female circumcision, slavery, and rhino poaching for medicinal reasons could all be considered traditions in some part of the world, yet we all sort of agree that they should be abolished in this day and age, so to me the argument about thai traditions here is moot. Elephant riding is a bad tradition.
But maybe it is a good thing that Nikki Beach had such a marvelously stupid PR department and event planner, because who is better suited to shed light on this issue than a cute baby elephant. For those of you who don't know – elephants should not be ridden by humans or used for other entertainment. They have very sensible spines, believe it or not, and usually don't run around playing soccer or such. In order to domesticate and make it do such things you need to quite literally break an elephant. In case you still consider an elephant ride an essential part of your ultimate Asian holiday, I'd first dare you ask you to google and watch a video of a baby elephant in a breaking camp. And yes, that's what they are really called and any elephant suitable for riding has to go through it. If you make it to the end - I didn't - without sobbing - I didn't – I'd be very surprised. In case you react like a normal human being though and would like an elephant friendly alternative, check out the Elephant Sanctuary where you can volunteer or just spend time with them.
Unfortunately elephants are not the only animals used and mistreated for tourists' amusement. I found this blog post by Anglo Italian Follow Us really awesome to learn a bit more about it and find alternatives if you would like to spend time with animals on your trip without any elephant riding.
*I did get lucky on our hike after Chiang Mai though and met some elephants hanging out in the forest.