Elephant riding in Cambodia

The Cruelty Behind an Elephant Ride

Animals not entertainers

Header image credit: Amy Jones / Moving Animals

Today, more than 3,000 elephants are being used and abused to entertain tourists and visitors across Asia.

In order to ‘train’ them for demand of tourist activities such as performingriding, and bathing, captive elephants are forced to undergo severe physical and psychological trauma every day.

And because of the increasing demand for elephant experiences from tourists and visitors, trainers are forced to deploy cruel methods to ‘control’ these helpless wild animals.

Elephant riding in Thailand


Staff with elephants in Thailand

Elephant transition venues

Elephants are cruelly snatched from their mothers at birth and then forced to endure a horrific training process known as ‘the crush’ – all just to make these vulnerable beings submissive and ready for rides and other human interactions.

This process involves physical restraints, inflicting severe pain, and withholding food and water. When tourists go for an elephant ride, they may find the elephant looking peaceful and calm, but this is because its spirit has been broken. The bullhook used by a mahout always reminds the animal of human dominance and the abuse that he or she will have to go through if he or she resists.

You may think the cruelty would end after ‘the crush,’ however, it does not. When not performing or used for rides most elephants are kept chained up, unable to socially interact with one another which only intensifies their suffering.

With your support, we are exposing the hidden cruelty behind elephant rides and shows, and showing the travel industry there is a different way. You can stand up for elephants by taking our pledge to push the travel industry to stop cruel elephant encounters and rebuild for the better.

Elephant riding in Thailand


Image credit: World Animal Protection / Andito Wasi

Why you shouldn’t take pride in an elephant ride

Elephants are intelligent, strong, and charismatic animals. They are the largest living mammals with great memory and can form strong bonds. While these beautiful animals are meant to spend their lives happy and free, over 3,000 elephants are being exploited in the global tourism industry today.

Every captive elephant is subject to a brutal training process known as ‘the crush.’ To break their spirit, they are torn from their mothers, isolated, chained, starved, and beaten until they are submissive enough to perform distressing tourist activities.

It is a lifetime of horror for a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ holiday experience. If tourists knew about the horrific cruelty behind the scenes, they surely would think twice before spending their hard-earned money to finance such cruelty.

Although elephants have been exploited by humans for countless years, a better life for them is possible. As most captive elephants cannot be released back into the wild, an elephant-friendly venue is their best option.

At an elephant-friendly venue, elephants have the freedom to roam, graze and bathe while socialising, rather than being used for strenuous rides, kept in chains, and exposed to the sun all day. It allows observational activities only with no direct interaction between humans and elephants.

Because of your support, we were able to partner with some of the world’s most influential travel companies and help transition two tourist venues in Thailand into elephant-friendly venues. This has shown that there is an elephant-friendly way to be commercially viable for elephant camp owners, encouraging them to value and care for their animals.

Together, we can continue to push the travel industry to rebuild for the better until the last chain is broken.


Elephant riding in Thailand

Taken for a ride

Read our 'Taken for a Ride' report and learn how thousands of elephants around the world are suffering for entertainment.

Elephant riding at Mason Elephant Park. Credit: Andito Wasi / World Animal Protection

End elephant suffering

Call on Mason Elephant Park and Lodge to end the captive breeding of elephants and the cruel interactions for tourist entertainment.

Staff with elephants in Thailand

Elephant transition venues

Image caption: World Animal Protection / Nick Axelrod

Elephant transition venues: an elephant-friendly future

The best place to catch a glimpse of elephants in all their glory is, without a doubt, the wild. But this is not always possible, which is why most people tend to visit venues that house elephants.

To cater to the demand for elephant attractions, thousands of elephants are being taken from the wild or bred in captivity, beaten into submission, and forced to suffer in the name of wildlife tourism. They endure harsh training regimes to become submissive enough to carry tourists on their backs and perform tricks.

However, there is a way for tourist venues to be commercially viable while being elephant friendly. Over the past few years, many such venues are increasingly shifting away from cruelty and are transitioning to elephant-friendly venues that provide responsible elephant experiences to tourists. The transition allows elephants to be free to behave as they would in the wild; free to roam the valley, graze, and bathe in mud, dust, and water.

It is an essential step to create better lives for elephants and mahouts by gradually moving away from using captive elephants for commercial tourism.

With your support, two former riding camps in Thailand (ChangChill and Following Giants), have transitioned their venues into observation-only models. The transition has changed the lives of the elephants for the better, and tourists who visit these venues enjoy a far more meaningful experience.

You can help put pressure on the travel industry to stop elephant suffering and rebuild responsibly by signing our elephant-friendly pledge today.

How to be an elephant-friendly tourist

Thousands of elephants around the world are suffering in the name of tourism. Use our tips to avoid venues that don't have elephants’ best interests at heart.

Take the virtual elephant tour


Let the elephants lead you on a virtual tour of Following Giants - an elephant-friendly venue in Koh Lanta.

Elephant riding with a bullhook at Bali Zoo

Donate to protect elephants

You can help give elephants the chance to live out their lives in a calm, peaceful environment.