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Everything You Should Know About Riding Elephants In Asia

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Tourists heading to destinations like India, Thailand, Nepal and Cambodia often arrive touting a bucket list that includes "ride an elephant!" Elephant riding often seems like an innocuous to tourists and a way to get closer to these hulking animals, without visiting a zoo or circus.

But in many cases, tourist attractions that offer elephant rides are just as bad -- if not worse -- than circuses when it comes to animal welfare. Here are seven things you need to know before you climb up onto the back of a pachyderm.

1. Most of the elephants are captured as babies from the wild.

For many of the elephants, life in captivity begins when they are ripped from their herd in the wild. Because elephants form such strong bonds with their mothers and female calves stay with them for life, the separation is psychologically harmful both for mothers and calves.

2. Parents and other members of the herd are often killed during capture of babies.

Experts estimate that as many as five adult elephants can be killed while defending a baby during wild capture. The capture is a violent process, as elephants are hit with large sticks and pulled with ropes.

3. "Breaking" an elephant is abusive.

In order to force a young elephant to become docile and fear humans, the calves are tied up and beat with sharp bullhooks that train them to obey commands -- a process that is both psychologically and physically damaging. Young elephants are often identified by their scar patterns.

4. Working all day, elephants easily overheat and become dehydrated.

Carrying blankets at throws on their backs as well as humans, elephants are prone to overheating on long rides. For instance, in Nepal many elephants conduct up to seven trips each day, seven times a week.

5. Poor conditions for hard workers.

Despite their constant working schedule, elephants get little to no downtime. After a day of work, they are chained up in holding sheds overnight. According to Elephant Watch, nearly all of them are beaten with bamboo sticks to control them.

6. The trade of elephants threatens the survival of some of the world's last remaining populations of wild Asian elephants.

The world has lost up to 90 percent of its Asian elephants in the past 100 years -- and conservationists fear that the species could be lost in the wild before long.

7. The trade in wild elephants tows government corruption along with it.

The Guardian investigated the Asian elephant trade in Chang Mai, Thailand, revealing disturbing ties to government corruption in the area.

While these issues are widespread, they are not true to every facility the has elephants in Asia. Responsible sanctuaries that house elephants without chains and don't offer rides are leading the way for Asian elephants. You can learn more about efforts to improve elephant facilities and responsible elephant sanctuaries at Elephant Aid International.