Elephant riding in Bali is an industry that thrives off of uninformed tourists. As a result, it’s a very popular item on Bali’s bucket list.
Traveler’s go there to experience colourful Asian culture and to immerse in nature. For many, this means getting close to wild animals. Especially the elephants. And who wouldn’t want to do that? They’re beautiful, majestic and mesmerizing. But sadly, the companies that offer elephant experiences to tourists, are also destroying their livelihood.
I was an uninformed tourist in Bali. I rode an elephant because I lacked knowledge about the industry. But, this mistake opened my eyes to the ugly truth.
Riding an Elephant in Bali:
I climbed up on the elephant’s chair saddle. Immediately, I felt that I was doing something very wrong. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I watched the “mahout” (driver) repeatedly hit the elephant with an iron hammer. Following the hits, he dug into her head with a sharp hook. I hated every second of it and wanted to get off. I asked the mahout to stop hitting her, but he assured me that it was okay. He lied and claimed that it didn’t hurt her.
After we got off, I examined the elephant’s head. I saw blue/green bruises and scars from the sharp hits she takes daily. She looked beat up and very sad. The mahout took her away into a stable. He chained her up with all other elephants and went on his merry way. It broke my heart…
Elephant Riding in Bali is Unethical:
Despite the unethical promotion of animal tourism, Bali is a beautiful island. It’s worthwhile visiting and experiencing. But it’s up to you to choose wisely which activities you take part in while you’re there.
I wish I could take back the money I spent on riding that elephant. Unknowingly, I contributed to torturing the most amazing animal I’ve seen in my life. This is why I’m sharing this post with you.
Backed up by my research, I made a list of things that I learned from my experience:
- The elephants in Bali are not “rescued” Sumatran elephants.
- They are stolen Sumatran elephants, taken as babies from their mothers for exploitation.
- The chair saddles on the backs of elephants are extra weight that they can’t handle. The weight causes damage and sores to their backs.
- Sitting on an elephant’s back also causes spinal damage and internal health issues.
- Elephant trainers repeatedly hit the elephants on the head with bullhooks to control them.
- A bullhook is an iron or steel tool. It has a hammer on one side and a sharp hook on the other.
- Trainers force the Elephants to ride in high heat. The elephants flap their ears vigorously to cool down.
- Carrying heavy weight in high heat environments distress the elephants. The mahouts claim that it’s natural, but it isn’t.
Elephant Riding is Nowhere Near Natural:
Riding elephants is an unnatural activity that aims solely at entertaining tourists. Anatomically, elephant bodies aren’t created to carry weight on their backs like some other mammals. They are forced and completely isolated from their natural habitats.
“Because all captive elephants are not domesticated animals, for them to be kept in captivity:
• They need to be restrained.
• Are vulnerable to sudden outbursts of human targeted aggression, leading to injuries and fatalities.
• They undergo a cruel and painful process to break the elephants will and accept human control.
• They are susceptible to the development of health and behavioural problems.”
So that’s the ugly truth about riding elephants. And now, more than ever, traveler’s like myself are questioning the ethics of elephant activities in tourism. This has raised global awareness about the issue. Yet elephant riding remains an integral part of Bali’s tourism. But Why?
Elephant Riding in Bali on the Web:
The world-wide web is a great tool for educating travelers on unethical animal tourism. But I think it also largely contributes to promoting it. Many uneducated reviews convince tourists that elephant riding is fun. A must-do activity. Every time a tourist signs up for an elephant ride in Bali, it gives the company promoting the rides a reason to exist.
I’ll start with myself. Before I booked my trip to Bali, I had seen that one of my Facebook friends was there. He posted amazing photos of his elephant ride in the jungle. It convinced me that the activity was bucket list worthy. So I did a Google search on elephant riding in Bali. This is what came up:
As you can see, Trip Advisor shows 4 – 4.5 star ratings on elephant rides and tours. High ratings on activities like these generally make tourists feel more comfortable about booking them. The sad part is that most of the reviews are from deeply unaware tourists. They rave about their entertaining elephant experiences because they don’t know better. Unfortunately, this basic web search doesn’t show any alerting posts with red flag warnings.
It’s your Responsibility to do your Research:
Many tourists rely on false information on the web and propaganda. Shockingly, the positive reviews on elephant riding in Bali are far more than the negative ones.
But that can’t be our excuse. We are responsible for researching and educating ourselves. Don’t rely on others to know what’s happening behind the scenes. Do the extensive research yourself. Start by asking the right questions rather than relying on reviews.
So if you you’re thinking of riding an elephant in Bali, please think again. As travelers, it’s our responsibility to be ethical on our travels. This means ethically treating animals, people and everything in nature. Make a conscious and informed choice. Don’t pay for the unethical treatment of elephants.
For further information on elephant riding in Bali, visit Bali Animal Welfare Association.
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