Elephants aren't for riding

RetreaTours does not endorse riding elephants.


We feel very strongly about the use of animals in tourism in any form, and we have taken a hard stand against riding elephants on our tours.

Elephants are extraordinarily intelligent, social, emotional creatures. When you see an elephant being used for work or tourism, that elephant’s spirit has been intentionally and violently broken through cruel and painful measures–there are no two ways about it. The physical and emotional torture continues every day of that elephant’s life.

Here are 9 facts from our friends at PETA, followed by some other inspired reading. Although I’m borrowing their words, we have witnessed some of these cruel realities first hand in our travels.

1. When they’re babies, elephants are taken from their mothers and families in the wild. Because they have a high sale value, not only are babies illegally captured, their protective mothers are also often killed as they try to save them.

2.  “Training” begins immediately. The babies are tied down and beaten with bullhooks and other instruments designed to inflict pain until their spirits are broken and they’re willing to obey their “trainers” to avoid pain.

3.  Researchers have found that elephants who are subjected to this “breaking” or “crush” process often develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

4.  Elephants in nature live in matriarchal herds in which they forage for fresh vegetation, play, bathe in rivers, and travel many miles a day. Held in captivity, they can move only in small circles in an arena or along a short path while carrying humans on their backs, even on the hottest days.

5.  When they aren’t working, the animals are usually kept in sheds or shacks—often with concrete floors that damage their legs—and they’re bound by chains that can be so tight they can barely move.

6.  Captive elephants are routinely denied nutritious food, adequate water, and needed veterinary care, especially for their feet.

7.  The lack of exercise and long hours spent standing on hard surfaces are major contributors to serious foot problems, arthritis, and back injuries. Most captive elephants die decades short of their normal lifespan.

8.  According to World Animal Protection, “Between 2010 and 2016 in Thailand alone, 17 fatalities and 21 serious injuries to people by captive elephants were reported in the media. Unreported incidences involving local elephant keepers are likely to make this figure much higher.”

9.  Because public awareness of cruelty to captive elephants has increased, many attractions are trying to dupe tourists by adding words such as “sanctuary,” “rescue center,” “refuge,” and “retirement facility” to their names. But the abusive training methods and deprivation are often the same and make the elephants follow the trainers’ commands to let people ride, feed, touch, or bathe them.


We’ll spare you the horrific photos of what the majestic animals endure, but there are plenty to see online if you like.

We know that you may be drawn to ride an elephant because you love them so much, but you may have never known how terrible the practice was. Unfortunately, claiming to love elephants and riding an elephant while on vacation is akin to saying you love dogs and then going to a brutal dogfight.  Patronizing businesses that use elephants only encourages this terrible practice.

If you really want to feed our love of elephants, let’s talk! From jeep safaris in Sri Lanka and Kenya, to a few reputable rescue facilities in Thailand, we’ve got you covered!

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