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Why Not to Ride an Elephant – A Child Explains

Why Not to Ride an Elephant – A Child Explains

Last week we hosted visitors from the United States. They were on a countrywide tour and were in the Eastern Cape to visit our famous Addo elephants. Their highlight, they explained to us, was sure to be the elephant back safari they had booked. I bit my tongue – clearly they did not know how cruel this is to elephants.


We too have ridden elephants. It was only when we met Lara Mostert, avid animal rights activist and owner of Monkeyland, Birds of Eden and Jukani near Plettenberg Bay, that we gained some in depth knowledge on what constitutes a true animal sanctuary, and how we can all make a difference by being responsible tourists who refuse to support facilities that place economics above ethics.


So if elephant back riding is cruel to elephants, how can it be that it is so popular among both tourists and locals? I guess it must be from a lack of information and education as surely most people would not knowingly support cruelty to these majestic and magnificent creatures.


When Cian was in Grade 6 last year, he was tasked with preparing an oral to persuade his audience about something he felt strongly about and he chose to tackle the topic of elephant back riding. His words are simple and emotive and I’ll bet they will cause you to think twice before you head off to ride an elephant.


Why Not to Ride an Elephant, By Cian (aged 12)


My name is Cian…

As we drive through the big gates to the elephant sanctuary, my heart is pounding with excitement. Elephants are one of my favourite animals. They are SO huge but at the same time so gentle and peaceful.
Today I am going to touch, feed and ride one of these amazing creatures.
As we arrive at the giant stables, I see four of them, standing right next to the gum pole fence. I have never been so close to an elephant on foot before!
Each elephant has a rider, holding a stick, and a carpet over their back. We climb up a staircase to a raised platform and the elephants walk in a tunnel next to it so we can climb on their back.
The elephant’s back is so wide it feels like I am doing the splits!
It’s really bony and its skin is thick and hard. It walks in a lolloping motion around the field and I can’t believe I am here on top!
When the ride is finished, we each get a bucket of pellets and the trainer shows us how to put our arm up and say “Trunk Up” in a loud voice.
This makes the elephant open its mouth and it’s so much fun to put the pellets onto its enormous tongue.


My name is Duma…

I work in a sanctuary for elephants. I don’t understand why it is called a sanctuary because my life is very hard here.
I was taken away from my mom when I was a small kid. I miss my family so much but I know I must not show my fear because it will be very painful for me.
My trainer has a big wooden pole with a sharp spike on the end and it stings like crazy when he pokes me, especially in the soft skin behind my ears.
He only pokes me when I don’t do what he wants so I try and obey him all the time.
Sometimes this is difficult because my back hurts so much when people sit on it.
The best part of my day is when I put my trunk up and the people feed me tasty pellets.
But when this is over, I have to do more rides and tricks all over again and again for the whole day every day.


My name is Cian…

Last year I visited an elephant sanctuary and fed and rode an elephant. I have now learned how cruel this practise is and I feel ashamed that I supported something so horrible for another creature. I didn’t realise that the elephant was suffering.
Elephants are wild creatures and the only way they can be tamed is by breaking their spirits and making them scared of being punished.
Their bodies have evolved to carry weight below, not above their spines. Their spines don’t have smooth discs like a horse’s – they have long bony protrusions on the top that make it very sore to carry heavy weight on top.


The truth is that these poor wild animals are simply money making machines for us humans.
If you can…Ride it, Hug it, or Take a ‘Selfie’ with it, you can be sure that it is CRUEL.
So today, I am here to persuade you to never go elephant riding or visit a so-called sanctuary where you pay to feed, ride or walk with elephants. Rather visit Addo Elephant Park to see elephants up close with their families in their natural habitat, as they should be.


Well done Cian! You managed to persuade your class and your words will hopefully convince many others to think twice before riding an elephant.


Read more about what makes a true animal sanctuary in 5 Responsible Reasons to visit Monkeyland.

Find out more about the #handsoffourwildlife #HOWL campaign and some insight into what is and what isn’t acceptable for our animals in tourism from Green Girls in Africa.


#handsoffourwildlife – My hands are off, how about yours?


Yours in Travel





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