It's easy to fall into the temptation of riding an elephant.
These are magnificent, powerful, grand creatures! Man has been fascinated by them from the beginning of time, for their beauty goes beyond boundaries. Unfortunately, this admiration for the wild world has gotten mixed and confused with a tourism industry that, consciously or unconsciously, harms animals in a pretty serious way.
For you to ride an elephant, they must be captured and trained. In order to subject them completely to men's will, they are deprived of food, water, and social contact with other elephants. They are continually beaten with hooks and whips on the ears, head, and feet, so they will learn to have fear and to obey. They have limited mobility and rests, and their training is not over until the soul of the elephant is completely broken, as dictated by the traditional Thai method.
This practice started in Asia (kingdom of fear for species like the elephant or the tiger), but the "exotic activities" demand and the increasing tourism in Africa has made elephant trekking and safaris expand all over the continent at a breakneck speed.
Not to mention the captures for circuses and zoos, many elephants are drawn away from their families (which usually needs of the murder of their mothers) at an early age to start the training of punishments and physical abuses. They are forced to interact with humans and to depend on them - which stops them from ever being able to go back to their natural habitat and behave normally. They are held in small, closed spaces. They are chained at night, and exploited during the day.
Though that's not the worst thing, probably. Lack of general education about this issue makes us obviate to the cruelest of all consequences these elephants suffer. And that is mental abuse.
To talk about the cognitive and emotional capacity of these creatures is as fascinating as re-discovering throughout history what the human being is able to. An elephant can feel and pursue happiness. He's a completely social creature who looks for affection, protection, and a place to call home. He's able to recognize sounds and voices - and even to differentiate different languages. He's able to establish very close relationships with people and other elephants, to the point of crying for weeks his friends' death (and visiting the corpses habitually, touching them with his trunk and screaming with pain). Not to mention his incredible memory, which allows circus elephants to recognize and emotionally greet each other once reunited again after thirty years.
What happens, then, if we keep such an emotional creature from his life, home, and family? That he refuses to eat. That he loses his strength. That he untiringly cries. That he remembers his herd - and beware most captured elephants remember the murder of their mothers. That he gets sick and suffers from arthritis and other ailments. That he falls into depression, demotivation, and post-traumatic stress disorder. That he dies much earlier than one of his companions in the wild.
Because an elephant is captive it doesn't mean all his necessities are covered. It's comfortable to think that you are riding an elephant because you appreciate and admire them, but your action is actually counterproductive.
It's not news that men take care of animals, but not all species need us the same way. An elephant needs respect and freedom. And from men? Nothing more than their continuous admiration. An admiration that, if possible, does not cost them their lives.
Originally posted on The Dragon Whisperer.