Tides are Changing

“Bathing with elephants – tourists give them a mud bath, splash them in a river, or both – has become very popular.  Many facilities portray baths as a benign alternative to elephant riding and performances. But elephants getting baths, like those that give rides and do tricks, will have been broken to some extend to make them obedient.  And as long as bathing remains popular, places that offer it will need obedient elephants to keep their business going.” - National Geographic article

I opened the message app on my phone to see a new National Geographic article that was sent to me sitting in my inbox.  I’ve always loved National Geographic (I mean, who doesn’t?) and look forward to the educational content and photography of the publication.  I clicked on the link which took me to an article that was published a few of weeks ago which discusses the reality of tourism with exotic wildlife.  Intrigued, I slowly scrolled through the article and as each paragraph went by, I started to realize the importance of the message from such an influential publication.  Nowadays, it’s not very often that such a well-respected outlet goes out on a limb with telling the truth.

When I first started coming to Thailand years ago, my friends would always say “Oh, how fun, you must ride an elephant when you are there!”  I had friends who have traveled to this gorgeous country over the years and even after me telling them about the horrors that go on behind the scenes at elephant riding venues, still chose to participate in the cruel industry.  It truly broke my heart. I always thought “how could we be so cruel?” when I saw chains covering elephants, heavy saddles on their backs carry tourists, with their basic rights of freedom taken away.

Our Project Director, Yo, spends some quiet time observing a couple of the girls in the Never Forget herd.

Our Project Director, Yo, spends some quiet time observing a couple of the girls in the Never Forget herd.

Years ago, elephant riding became somewhat frowned upon, particularly by western travelers.  And because of that, hundreds of “ethical sanctuaries” have popped up all over Thailand where unsuspecting tourists can walk with elephants through the forest and bathe them in the river.  Now Nat Geo is using their powerful voice to expose the reality of what happens behind the scenes, even at these new “ethical” venues. It is easy to conclude from the article that not only should you not ride elephants, but anything less than replicating their natural environment will not do.  This means no riding, bathing, circus tricks, trekking, chains or bullhooks as the exploitative process to get the elephant in that situation is the same in every venue. The elephants suffer in the same way no matter if they are ridden, bathed, forced to perform tricks or made to drag logs: everything that is natural to an elephant is taken away, and when they are not being used for entertainment or labor, they are chained up and fed the same food day in and day out which can be detrimental to their physical and mental health.

Big thanks to National Geographic for having the courage to publish an unbiased message filled with compassion for the animals in these helpless situations.  After reading the article, you can’t help but think, “if I were in the shoes of these animals, would I want this done to me?” And the answer to that question is undoubtedly “no.” And thanks to Nat Geo, my heart is once again filled with hope as we see tourism move to a more humane, forgiving and truly ethical place not only for elephants, but for all animals.  It is about calling on tourism venues to have courage to shift the model. This shift might be slow, but it is happening. And this is exactly why Never Forget exists: because we believe in the potential that hope brings and look forward to the day when all elephants are returned home to the jungle where they belong.

For the Elephants,