Why riding elephants should be taboo
Riding damages the health of an elephant because its back is definitely not made for carrying the weight of people for the entire day. Let us explain to you the anatomy of an elephant in a nutshell: The backbone of an elephant differs from that of a horse. An elephant is built to lift weight with its trunk – and not to carry people on its back. The vertebrae of the elephant’s backbone point upwards just like humans. Instead of round and smooth discs, elephants have sharp, bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. If people constantly sit in metal seats on the back of the elephant, the animal feels pain and its health is severely damaged.
The living conditions are unfortunately not species-appropriate either: if an elephant is not needed to work for a time – whether it be in the day or at night – it is chained up for hours on end on a short chain. Even if the animal is too sick to work, it has to remain motionless in an area which is way too small.
On top of that, please consider the following fact: elephants are social beings just like us. They like to spend time in herds and they have friendships with or aversions to other elephants. They are also very sensitive – they feel pain, sorrow and happiness!
“Phajaa” – a cruel method of submission
Elephants are incredibly intelligent and good-tempered by nature. Unfortunately, you cannot experience what these majestic animals are all about if they are kept in confinement. In order for them to become a tourist attraction and source of earnings, elephants have to be trained to obey humans. For this purpose, their will is broken with a cruel process of submission all elephants have to endure, even those born in captivity. This barbaric method, which has been used in Thailand for centuries, is called “Phajaan”. This terrible procedure teaches elephants submission and obedience.
The “mahout” does not participate in the “Phajaan” ceremony, but he commits the dirty deed of appearing in the last stage of the “Phajaan”, pretending to be a saviour. The mahout is the first one to give water and food to the elephant, the one to finally loosen his chains. It is also he who frees the elephant from the shed. After weeks of torture, mental and emotional abuse, loneliness, confusion and isolation, the elephant considers the mahout (!) to be his saviour and starts to trust him. This is an extremely perfidious way of mental and emotional manipulation but this is the way that the mahouts gain control over their animals.
But even when the will of the highly sensitive animals is finally broken, the maltreatment continues. The elephant leader has to show the elephant again and again who has the upper hand.
The cruel and violent truth
Elephant babies are usually taken from their mothers at between three and six years old, often even younger. The young elephant is now in the hands of his trainer, and the “Phajaan” ritual begins: the animal is kept in a small shed, its legs, painfully stretched, tied up with ropes. In this state of complete motionlessness, the miserable elephant babies are abused by being beaten with sticks and being shouted at. They are not given any water or food during this period of torture. Their heads, ears and skin are constantly stabbed with an iron hook, the fearsome goad without which no elephant could be controlled. At the end of this ordeal, the ropes used for tying up and stretching the legs of the elephant are replaced by tight chains.
The terrible “Phajaan” can last for weeks, with no respite from the physical and psychological torture. In this way, humans bring elephants to heel – that is the sad truth to which the frazzled ears and countless scars of the oppressed animals bear testimony.