Why the Elephants?

The gentle Elephants carrying tourists in Cambodia

I have never had a face-to-face encounter with an elephant in my entire life until I reach the Kingdom of Cambodia. Understandably, like Thailand and Laos, Cambodia has much use, for centuries of elephants. May it be for transportation, hard and manual labor on the fields and now, tourism. I am captivated by these tender giants since I was young, watching oriental movies where an elephant is considered a friend and a family. Rudyard Kipling’s classic, “The Elephant Child” is a constant companion in my search to understand better these graceful giants.

An Elephant in Siem Reap with his handler

These elephants were just used for tourism purposes and they stood for hours

When I arrived in Siem Reap and touring around Angkor complex, on my way to the Bayon temple, three elephants waited for tourists to board them for $20 each way. My tuk-tuk driver pointed it out to me if I wanted to ride it but I begged off. I alighted from his tuk-tuk and decided to walk around and took a photo of the elephant with their handlers. I would love to exchange ideas with the handlers however unsuccessful was I on my attempts. Seemed they do not want to be talked and naturally, as aware as I am of animal rights, I would love to ask how these elephants are cared for. The handlers just avoided me, as if I am a potential disaster so to speak.

I walked around towards Bayon and saw monkeys on the wild who seemed to be disturbed by the presence of hundreds and thousands of tourists flocking towards their abode for centuries and if only they can speak, they would shout, where is our peace?

The monkeys of Bayon in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The stark realization I have about tourism is its abuses to animals and in this case, the elephants. No matter how my tuk-tuk driver convinced me that the elephants I saw were cared for and are feed regularly, I still find it odd why people would want to ride them for photos and also, they are very much able to walk the same way these elephants do walk for those dusty mornings and afternoons. I can never even reconcile my principles that while tourism is benefiting people, so should with animals. These principles are however challenged when I saw the elephants. The tourist capitalism as I call it is taking its toll on the elephants.

I don’t feel good patronizing these elephants for tourism purposes.

In the Philippines, the Manila Zoo still patronizes the elephants in their cages and people simply would love to see them, not in the wild but in the zoo. As a backpacker, as much as I can, I avoid zoos for I find it painful to see animals supposedly on the wild, in their natural habitat, but as tourism demands, placed in inhumane cages (modern semantics: enclosures). Thus, this post celebrates with the WWF the World Elephant Day! Take a photo of the elephants, just DONT ride on them, will you please?

It is I believed that while tourism benefits community, so it must be our solemn duty to protect our animals. We share the same benefits though at a different levels. We pay and get paid, while they get nothing and sadly, we make sums out of them. Everytime we board on the backs of elephants, we pay and in Cambodia, its $20 each way. How much then goes to animal welfare? Nil if there is. How much then goes to the owners and handlers? More, as always! We live in a society so cruel and abusive, manipulative and scheming but let us not wait until the monkeys run wild and the elephants run amok. Like us, they can feel and they know they are being used for profit. It entirely depends on our ability to consider their welfare above our own touristic barbarism, least, our touristic ignorance too.

Elephants widely used in tourism in Cambodia: Touristic barbarism

Tourist Capitalism at its worse for animal welfare in Cambodia


Categories: Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, Cambodia, Travelling Quotes and Thoughts | Tags: , , , , | 29 Comments

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29 thoughts on “Why the Elephants?

  1. I was able to ride the elephant too in Angkor Wat. I hope they are well taken care of.

    • As I wrote about on this post, I didn’t ride it, in fact, I am against riding it. I hope you are well after riding the elephant.

      • This got me thinking about your cause. I may not be against zoos, but I still cannot put myself to freeing those animals already in the zoo. Zoos also help in the preservation of wild life by educating patrons. Anyway, I have never ridden an elephant before, though I would have loved to try it, if not for this post. It has really got me thinking…..

  2. Elephants are incredible creatures- they can feel just like humans feel. Its sad when they are abused or mistreated in the name of tourism. When I was in Africa we I had the privilege of working alongside a few rescued elephants who 20 years prior had been orphaned and were taken into the private game park- where they were used mainly for tourism purposes – providing rides and doing a few tricks. However they weren’t abused, were given all day to graze and roam freely around the park. When in Chobe National Park in Botswana I was saw an elephant funeral and it was so touching. The elephants all gathered around the dead body and would walk by and touch their trunk to the dead elephant… they looked so sad.

    Its sad that they are exploited the way that they are 😦

    • Melly, that one experience of yours in Botswana is a touching story, it melts my heart. What I lament when I saw these elephants being used for tourism purposes is that not much are given for their welfare so to speak. Not much are provided to keep them safely and feed them in comfort. I Asia, as mostly in Africa, they made use of elephants for various purposes and I share the call for the WWF to made an end to this. When we less patronize elephants who are not in the wild, we slowly educate ourselves and by it, the elephant trade too will slowly but surely stop.

  3. Very nice photos. I love elephant rides.

  4. The also do that to elephants in Thailand. I am not an animal rights advocate but I am not into animal cruelty either. I feel really bad seeing other people enjoying while the handler was whipping the animals just to let it follow his commands.

    • We share the same insights on these gentle giants. I only saw in Cambodia as I have never been to Thailand but as travelers, we need to educate ourselves that patronizing these kind of tourist capitalism is harmful to the animals and violates animal rights unless we are ensured of the safety and welfare of these.

  5. I enjoy riding the elephants. They look tired in the photos, though… Must be the walking around all day.

    • thanks for your comments Rizza. As I pointed out in my post, I don’t patronize riding elephants and I don’t find it amusing to be on top of it. Of course, they are tired since they had been used and over-used for tourism purposes.

  6. Oh man, who was it? Someone just a few hrs ago on Twitter was talking about elephants but said it’s much more fun to help out and bathe them at a voluntourism place than to ride them lol. I’ve been offline for many days now and am playing catch-up, so everything is jumbled in my head…it’s like cramming for a test I’m going to fail lol. Anyway, great read!

    • Thanks for dropping by Derek. It’s been a while since I had been thinking about the scene I saw while in Cambodia and said to myself this is not right, how they treat animals like that. Unfortunately, some of those whom I knew even had the chance to ride elephants and are happy doing so but in so doing, they unwittingly continue this maltreatment of animals.

      No problem helping out with an elephant, bathing them on lakes, but making money on them for tourism is what I call tourist capitalist and those, far worse and patronizes caged animals, like Elephants are what I call touristic barbarism.

      • Yup, I completely agree. That is a great example of why I advocate voluntourism instead of tourism.

      • and I subscribe to that Derek. Voluntourism is a new paradigm too where one gets to see the places, do volunteer work and help build a society which is open to other cultures. In that, we foster tolerance more than ever and also acceptability of other thoughts, cultures and nuances.

  7. juantedtraveler

    i’ve never seen as well an elephant in person and i doubt if ever i’m gonna appreciate its beauty because of fear.haha aw.

  8. This got me thinking about your cause. I may not be against zoos, but I still cannot put myself to freeing those animals already in the zoo. Zoos also help in the preservation of wild life by educating patrons. Anyway, I have never ridden an elephant before, though I would have loved to try it, if not for this post. It has really got me thinking…..

  9. This journey is great. Elephants are huge. 😀

  10. markpogi

    I guess its not that bad to ride an elephant but we have to be nice to them right?

  11. Nice! Definitely something to try at least once in your lifetime. Although I heard that riding one can make you feel dizzy.

    • Thanks for your comment on this post and again, I don’t advocate for the riding of the elephants.

      This post is not to promote elephants for tourism but an appeal to help stop riding on them as a means of tourism.

      Thank you for your comments again. 🙂

  12. AJ

    Agree with you Doc, 101%. No to using animals for entertainment. It’s unnatural, exploitative, and just plain cruel. I feel the same looking at the calesa-pulling horses in Binondo. Their blank stares can pierce if you look them in the eyes.

    • This is one I am strongly advocating with WWF. No to Tourist Capitalism and of course, I don’t want to be labelled as tourist barbaric. 🙂

      Thanks AJ for the appropriate comments 🙂

  13. I have never rode an elephant before. I haven’t seen one close-up at all! You’re so lucky to be able to take photos of them. 🙂

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