Beyond Vietnam, elephants are used for tourist rides, or "treks," in a jamboree of other nations including India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand, which is arguably the hot spot for elephant tourism in the region.
In 2010, World Animal Protection documented the conditions for captive elephants in Thailand in its report "Wildlife on a Tightrope." The organization surveyed 1,688 captive elephants in 118 venues across the country, most of which offered elephant rides or shows.
According to the report, more than half of those elephants were in terrible conditions. They were bound by "extreme" restraints. They were unable to socialize with other elephants. They did not receive veterinary care. And for those who suggest that the treks instill any kind of conservation ethos, World Animal Protection found only 6 percent of the venues promoted educational components with the treks.
"Cruelly taken from the wild or bred in captivity," the report reads, "these elephants are separated from their mothers and family groups at just a few months old. Elephants destined for the tourist industry experience great physical and mental trauma. Isolation, starving, hitting and beating are just some of the methods used to initially break their spirits and get them to behave and perform."