The tourism divide
Given the potentially brutal training process, combined with well-documented science and observations about elephants' emotional depth, cooperative nature, familial bonds and intelligence, why, then, do tourists who travel to Asia still want to ride elephants?
World Animal Protection conducted another survey in 2014. That survey found nearly 50 percent of travelers "pay for an animal experience because they love animals," said Schmidt-Burbach. Those tourists might be shocked to know that in some cases, the animals are indeed being treated very poorly.
"When you see a captive wild animal on your holiday, you often can't see the cruelty," Schmidt-Burbach says. "It's hidden from view. And it's important to remember that a captive wild animal in the entertainment industry can never truly experience a life free from suffering and cruelty."
For some tourists, sitting atop the world's largest terrestrial mammal is supremely positioned on the travel bucket list. For others, only ignorant jerks would even consider such a reprehensible joy ride. But for those straddling the proverbial fence, the messages can be confusing: Some travel magazines pen the praises of elephant camps and their mahouts, like this article about Laos in Travel & Leisure.