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An Elephant Never Forgets

by Jonathan van Bilsen

One of my favourite animals on the planet are elephants. I respect their intellect, cherish their family values and love to watch them stroll along their natural habitat. I have ridden three or four elephants, in various parts of the world, and never considered the animal’s perspective. Recently, I came across some very interesting facts, you may want to consider before embarking on your next adventure.

Riding elephants is a popular tourist attraction, in many Asian countries, but it is not as innocent as it seems. All three species of elephants are considered endangered or critically endangered. This means they are at risk of disappearing from the wild forever. Human activities, like habitat destruction and poaching, have caused their numbers to drop dramatically. Instead of helping to protect them, many tourist attractions exploit elephants for profit.

Many captive elephants, used for tourist activities, have been taken from their natural habitats. This is often done illegally, and it is a major problem. Capturing wild elephants can harm their populations and disrupt their social structures.

Elephants used for rides are often trained using harsh methods when they are very young. This can cause them physical and psychological harm which lasts their whole lives. Riding an elephant might seem harmless, but it is not natural for them to carry people on their backs.

Elephants are social animals which need space to roam and interact with others. Keeping them isolated or confined can be very harmful to their mental and physical health. Many captive elephants are deprived of social interaction, leading to loneliness and stress. Training and other traumatic experiences can cause elephants to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), just like humans. Many captive elephants show symptoms of PTSD, which can affect their well-being.

Captive elephants can carry diseases which can be harmful to humans, and they can also pose a physical threat, due to their size and unpredictable behaviour.

Instead of riding elephants, I would suggest you visit sanctuaries or orphanages where rescued elephants are cared for in a natural environment. These places prioritize the well-being of elephants, and offer educational experiences for visitors.

It is important to be an elephant-friendly tourist, by avoiding attractions exploiting these animals for profit. By choosing ethical alternatives, you can help protect elephants, and ensure they are treated with respect and dignity.

I am sure this concept pertains to camels, oxen and ostriches as well. All of which I have ridden, but never plan to do again.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website and YouTube.

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