If asked to name some animals associated with Southeast Asia, elephants would soon pop up in a list. While in Cambodia, I had a personal mission of seeing an elephant, and maybe even petting it (If I was lucky enough!). On our second day in Mondulkiri, my dream came true. We arrived at our first waterfall with Mott, a native Cambodian tour guide, as our leader. As soon as we pulled up, I spotted the elephant and began to do a little bit of a happy dance. I’ve seen elephants in zoos, but have never been so close with no barriers around. We were all getting excited as we started walking up this is gigantic and friendly creature. As we started petting the elephant, Mott said, “Do you guys want to feed him?” This shouldn’t have even been a question with how much excitement we all had on our faces.
Later that night as we all gathered around the dinner table at a local (and delicious) restaurant, we all got to talking to an Australian volunteer, James, who had been teaching English in the local schools for the past few weeks. After telling him what we had done that day, he asked us if we got to ride any elephants. After telling him no, he started talking about how bad it is to ride them and the health effects on elephants ribs and backs. I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was because I can only imagine the amount of weight they are forced to carry on a daily basis, but it got me wondering why I had never heard about the detrimental effects on these magnificent creatures.
, there were about 250 elephants in Cambodia living in the wild. Elephant trekking is a popular attraction to tourists, but if they knew how harmful it is, would they still have the same desire? Every country is different, but many elephants are trained to accept riders, usually in abusive ways such as using bullhooks and electric prods. On top of the abusive training, these innocent creatures have to endure hundreds of pounds on their back every day. An elephant’s spine cannot support the weight of people. Permanent spinal injuries, infected blisters from the chairs attached to their backs, and even foot infections from long-term trekking are all health concerns for elephants.
If more people, specifically tourists, were aware of these effects, maybe elephant riding would be less desirable and more elephants would be able to roam the forests without the added weight and health concerns.