Up front, the article below is about issues. It’s not a travel guide. My perspective might piss you off. I originally posted this article on August 29, 2015. I’m moving it up to the top of the list since I just made another visit to the elephant village here in Thailand.
I live in Thailand. The other day I took my girlfriend to ride an elephant at Pattaya Elephant Village. The whole time I just couldn’t stop thinking about all of the negative articles and reviews citing why it’s “unethical” to ride elephants in Thailand. I decided it was time to even out the argument.
First of all, what the hell does “ethical” actually mean? In my opinion, the following paragraph sums it up the best:
Ethics and morals relate to “right” and “wrong” conduct. While they are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different: ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong. – www.diffen.com
Ethics are the principles of institutions. People who constantly quote ethics are followers. They’re weak minded and desperately need others to tell them what do to. They always go along with the crowd.
Morals are your own principles. People who rely more upon their own morals over ethics are stronger and can think independently. They are the renegades, cowboys, and leaders.
So, exactly what institution is asserting that it’s “unethical” to ride an elephant? Is it PETA that the authors of these articles are relying on? If it’s PETA, that’s comical. Because unless the anti-elephant-riding authors are vegetarians, PETA finds them “unethical” as well. The irony. Are the writers relying on what the Save the Elephants Foundation says? Save the Whales? Exactly who is the official in charge of elephant ethics?
Or, are the writers relying on their own morals based off of personal experience in dealing with elephants? If that’s the case, then I obviously have a certain level of respect for their arguments.
Those quoting ethics? I have no respect for them. People on review sites asking, “Is it ethical to ride elephants?” just disgust me.
Really? You’ve got to ask the general public about how you should live your life?
Right and Wrong
What does “right” and “wrong” mean? Those terms are nothing more than a person’s opinion, and we all know that opinions vary. Vegetarians think it’s “wrong” to eat meat. I think it’s “wrong” to eat meat without properly marinating it first.
Back to the elephants…
The Ugly Side of Riding Elephants
Some issues people bring up concerning the treatment of elephants are the breaking and training methods. Ok, you’ve got me there. I’ve seen the videos of how elephants are broken. They are terrible and heart breaking to watch. Go to YouTube and do a little research on your own.
I concede that this is a problem. There are other ways to train elephants without tying them down with ropes for three days and beating the shit out of them. Zoos around the world have learned to train elephants without having to resort to absolute torture. Some of these less-than-ruthless ways could be adopted by the elephant tourism industry. I’m all for it. It will take time to change culture, though. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
We know elephants are often tied to a stake with a chain. But, would you prefer to tie a big-ass animal to a stake with a shoe string? That’s not practical. You restrain a dog with a leash. A chain is nothing more than a big leash. Chains get a bad rap because they were used to enslave humans and have a negative aura about them. But, tying a chain around an elephant’s ankle is the same as putting a collar and a leash on a dog.
But hey, they also use those sickle-looking things to control them. That’s cruel!
An elephant is massive. How else are you going to ensure that you have some type of pain-compliance control over it if it gets out of line?
What’s the Difference?
A horse is controlled by putting a metal bit in its mouth that causes pain when you pull on the reins. Where’s the outcry from travel writers? Do we really think that a horse truly wants to have someone riding it or racing it around in circles at the track? Probably not if the horse tells you the truth. Don’t want to hurt the horse? Ride it with just a halter and a rope. It might work with an old gentle mare, but I don’t recommend you trying it with a young stud horse. That damn horse will take you wherever he wants to go. You pulling on that rope ain’t going to stop him. You have to use pain compliance with the bit in his mouth. Is it cruelty or a necessity?
How do you train a dog? Most people put a slip chain around its neck and choke the poor thing until it goes in the direction they want it to go. Or, they put a shock collar on Old Yeller to train him on the invisible fence concept. Many dogs in America spend 12 hours a day confined to a “training crate” (a cage / jail cell) at the apartment while their owner goes to work. They get fifteen solid minutes a day of sniffing around a tiny patch of grass, while their owner chides them into hurrying a poop so he or she can get to the gym. Humane? Where are the travel writers?
Cats? Well, not sure about training house cats. They pretty much just lay around, put their bare asses all over your things and stink up the place. No need for travel writers to comment on cats I guess.
Cows? They get the piss shocked out of them with an electrical cattle prod. But, that’s not to train them. That’s just to control and herd them until we can turn them into hamburgers. Cows don’t have the luxury of living fifty years like elephants do. The second they’re born, they’re given a death sentence. As soon as they grow up, they’re dead. No appeal. Where are all the travel writers who know everything? No love for the pretty, furry cows?
Where are the articles encouraging travelers not to eat hamburgers in the United States because of the mass murder of defenseless cows? Oh, wait. That would probably conflict with the food section of their blog and that beautiful picture of a five-pound hamburger they recently gorged themselves on.
Watch some YouTube videos of cows getting slaughtered in America. They are far more violent and disturbing than watching an elephant being broken. I’ll bet you five bucks an American cow would trade places with an elephant in Thailand, in a heartbeat.
Pigs? Same as cows. They grow up and then get shuffled to the slaughterhouse. There are not many travel writers out there trying to raise awareness about the plight of a pig. Hell no. Barbecue is one of the best food topics to blog about.
The Lesser of Two Evils
Ever been to a rodeo? You think that a bull likes having a rope tied around his balls to make him jump and buck? Hell no. But, eight seconds of temporary discomfort keeps him from becoming ground beef. Enough said.
A Bit of Naivety
Most travel blogs pump out feel-good articles. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s why we read them. The problem is that a lot of the material is sugar coated. The writers are often naive to reality and especially, the big picture. It’s not their fault, though. Many are just young adults, very inspirational, and easily swayed. They still think they can save the world. They’re doing their part to raise awareness. Good on them. There was a time when I believed.
Their arguments often remind me of when a contestant in a beauty pageant utters the words, “World Peace”. You know what I’m talking about.
The Importance of Elephant Tourism. How it Protects Them.
If you’re living in the U.S., there are elephants on display at nearly every zoo. When was the last time you packed up your family and friends and went there for the sole purpose of looking at elephants? Probably not never. I’d say most people love elephants, but they won’t spend much or any of their hard-earned money just to go view them from afar.
How many tourists travel to another country and the first thing they want to do is go see some elephants at the local zoo? None. People travel to Africa to see elephants in the wild. They travel to Thailand to see elephants up close.
So, what makes elephants so special and popular in Thailand? It’s because you can actually ride them and interact with them. You can feed them bananas. You can watch them play football and throw darts. You can buy a portrait that was painted by an elephant. That’s the key difference. Nobody gives a damn about watching elephants eat in their man-made habitat of concrete (the zoo), that smells like the inside of a baboon’s ass most of the time. That doesn’t get people interested. It doesn’t make for a good travel photo. It’s boring. Half the time you have to use binoculars to see the damn things.
Who’s Paying the Bills?
Do you think that the price of your ticket to the local zoo takes care of the elephants there? No. It doesn’t. Most zoos are subsidized by the taxpayers in some way. Guess what? Southeast Asia isn’t the United States. Other countries in the world don’t just steal more money from the taxpayers and run up the national debt for every issue. Here, you actually have to pay your bills. It’s cash and carry.
So, who pays to take care of all these elephants? The tourists!
It’s not the Save the Elephants Foundation, PETA, or any other feel-good organization. The money from tourism pays for food, shelter, water, vet care, meds, etc. for a lot of elephants. It’s a business. Is there profit involved? Absolutely. But as a side effect, caring for the elephants is a necessity. It’s an operating expense. It’s a line item that can’t be erased.
What would happen if tourists stop riding elephants? The answer? There would be no money to feed the elephants and no money to pay people to care for them. If this occurred, who would step in and shell out the funds needed to keep the places in operation? Travel writers? I don’t think so. Save the Elephants Foundation? If they had the funding to take care of every elephant in Thailand they’d be doing it right now, wouldn’t they?
Somebody come up with a valid alternative and tell me where the money would come from. Don’t worry, I’ll wait…
If you can show me the money, I’ll agree that we all need to stop riding elephants. There. I’m not too proud to give in when someone comes up with a better idea. Somebody write a check. Put your money where your mouth is. Change the world. Give Bill Gates a call and see if he’s interested.
Raising awareness? That’s not tangible. It’s something people do online with their friends while sitting at Starbucks, to make themselves feel good. Fuck that. Show me the money. Show me the money that will take care of the elephants if tourists stop riding them.
Or, just come adopt one of these beautiful animals and take it home with you. Let me know how that works out.
The Human Factor
How many local Thais would be out of a job if tourists stop riding elephants? No one gives a shit about that aspect. Activists recklessly advocate ideas without stopping to think about how it affects people. Especially, how does your idea affect children? A lot of Thais are able to feed their children because of elephant tourism. What about them?
Animal rights activists always amaze me. They will go to jail protesting people eating shark fin soup but they won’t give a dime to starving children in developing nations.
Few people from the U.S. have actually felt the pain of hunger. They don’t understand what it means to survive. You don’t get an unemployment check or food stamps over here if you’re poor. If you work, you can eat. So, when I read a negative article by some asshole who wants to “raise awareness”, I purposely look to see if they say anything about the children of those involved in the industry. Nope. Just save the poor mistreated elephants from the mean old tourists. Nobody gives a damn about poor little brown children who don’t speak English and have little to eat. Selfish bastards.
Minding One’s Own Business
Reality. That’s where we all need to venture every once in a while. Riding elephants is part of the Thai culture. It’s a huge draw for tourism. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time that travel writers from America focus on raising awareness for problems in America. Trust me, there’s enough fucked-up things there to worry about instead of sticking your nose in somebody else’s business–in someone else’s country. Hell, two reporters just got shot and killed in Virginia during a live broadcast about tourism. There’s an issue to write about. Americans are killing each other at such a fast pace that you no longer have to wait for someone to post the video on YouTube. They’re bringing it straight to you on live tv.
Elephants make money from tourists. Therefore, they are protected. Think about it. A sick elephant cannot make money. A dead elephant cannot make money. A healthy elephant can ride tourists around and make money. It is in the owner’s best interest to take care of the animals. Constant abuse? How is that profitable? Constantly abusing an elephant makes for a pissed off elephant. We just saw what happened to a pissed-off elephant up in Chiang Mai. He killed the handler and ran off into the woods with three scared Chinese tourists aboard. Not good for public relations. It doesn’t benefit anyone to “constantly abuse” an elephant because it’s going to stay mad and cause problems. Not good for business.
Visit “Elephant Sanctuaries” or “Parks” Instead?
Is there a difference? An “Elephant Sanctuary” is just a name. An “Elephant Park” is just a name. An “Elephant Camp” is just a name. They are vying for tourist dollars just like every other place that has elephants. How do some push tourists their way? Publicize all the negative things about their competitors, show tourists scary YouTube videos, and claim that their facility is elephant friendly, eco-friendly, non-profit, etc. Hey, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. It’s easy to convince a travel writer who’s just passing through that riding elephants is evil but visiting our “sanctuary” is ok. Just use words like “sustainable” or “green” and “positive reinforcement”. They use things like that, which basically mean nothing, to impress Western tourists. These places are in the business to make money, too. Don’t let them fool you and don’t fool yourself. I’m not saying to avoid any one park or camp in particular. Obviously, some are better than others. Just don’t get caught up in what the place is called. Visit several and see if there’s really a difference. One place I like is Pattaya Elephant Village.
Think about it from an elephant’s perspective…
Hello, my name is Chang. Would I rather live in Africa or live in Thailand? Hmmm… Let me see… Poachers kill around 35,000 elephants every year in Africa. Dead. I can take my chances there roaming free or stay here in Thailand and live a long life. Sure, I have to ride Chinese tourists around in the heat but they don’t weigh too much. My back hurts a bit but I do get to eat a shit-ton of bananas every day. I love bananas. I get food, vet care, and I don’t have to worry about my ass getting shot. Yep, I’m glad to be in Thailand. Plus, I don’t even have to work every day. During the rainy season, I get a lot of days off because the tourists don’t want to get wet. There are several holidays, too. So, I’m not working 365 days a year. It’s not exactly a cake walk, but it’s better than being hunted by some psychotic businessman, doctor, or dentist from the U.S. who’s got a seriously tiny dick and wants to shoot me with a cross bow in the middle of the night. Just look at what happened to old Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe. His ass was wearing a GPS tracker and he lived on a damn sanctuary! Fuck that. I don’t want my head hanging on a wall in some asshole’s man cave. I love Thailand. All you travel writers, please stop writing this negative bullshit. I don’t want to get laid off and find myself on a slow boat to Kenya or alone in the Thai jungle. I might accidentally wander into Cambodia because I can’t read a map. There’s a shit ton of landmines still in place in Cambodia. I could get my leg blown off. Hey, gotta run. I smell bananas!
A Working Elephant is Safe in Thailand
So-called “sanctuaries” or national parks in Africa supposedly protect the elephants there. They have people patrolling with guns, drones, sensors, etc., and around 35,000 elephants still get killed each year. Are they really safe? I don’t think so.
Now, just try to come over here to Thailand and steal or poach one damn elephant from the tourism industry. Just one. See how far you get. I don’t recommend it. That’s taking money from someone’s wallet.
Shoot one of these elephants with a cross bow and see what happens to your ass. If you live until the police arrive, you’ll be lucky. Then be prepared to spend some time in Klong Prem prison.
Working elephants here in Thailand are inherently safe because of tourism. Ponder that shit for a minute.
Ride Elephants in Thailand. Take Pictures. Enjoy Yourself.
Come to Thailand. Go ride elephants. Feed them bananas. Take a lot of pictures and have a good time. You will never forget the experience. You’ll have a new-found love and respect for elephants. You will find yourself concerned about their survival. It’s not the same as seeing them at a zoo in America, I promise you. If you ride one you will become involved.
Voice Your Opinion
When you get home, thoroughly think about the issue and what you observed. Formulate your own opinion. Make sure you consider the big picture and not just what you’ve read on travel blogs. Don’t be afraid to go against political correctness and don’t allow others to decide what’s “ethical” for you.
Decide on what’s more evil: Letting elephants roam free in a world full of poachers until they’re extinct, or putting them through a bit of harsh training and making them work every day in exchange for protection and security.
Similarly, would you rather be a cow in America or an elephant in Thailand?
Make some decisions here.