During a recent trip to Bali, Kim Kardashian along with her sister Kourtney decided to go for a photo shoot riding elephants.

kim kardashian kourtney elephant ride

The two celebrities have a massive social media following reaching over a 100million people. If you know people who are some of their fans and might be interested in riding an elephant, we suggest you send them this article.

There’s a dark side to elephant tourism that many people don’t seem to be aware of…

Stolen from the Wild

Asian elephants are an endangered species. There are approximately 38,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants globally, about 12,000 of them captive in Asia. The specie is listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List and under Appendix 1 on CITES.

baby elephant chained thailand
A young elephant at a venue in Thailand. They are used as a backdrop for selfies, ridden and forced to entertain tourists by playing football, painting, riding tricycles, throwing darts and dancing – Credit WORLD ANIMAL PROTECTION

The elephant tourism industry thrives because foreign visitors all want to ride elephants or watch them do tricks, paying good money for the privilege. The market value for a healthy baby elephant is between $30,000 and $60,000. As there is money to be made, many do not hesitate to capture them in the wild.

The worst part being, that training needs to be done on young elephants, as such, poacher often kill the mothers in order to be able to capture their babies.

The Training

Phajaan or “the crush” is a long-standing accepted tradition used in Thai culture consisting of breaking the elephant’s spirit.

This harmful training method is what elephants undergo to become part of the tourism industry. Young elephants are confined to a small place, abused with bullhooks and bamboo sticks spiked with nails. They are also starved and deprived of sleep, to crush their spirits and become submissive to humans.

phajaan - crushing elephant spirit - brent lewin
© Brent Lewin / Redux Pictures You can read more about the story behind this award winning photo in the NBC Q&A of Brent Lewin 

Elephant Physical Health

Elephants’ spines cannot support the weight of people and doing so all day can lead to permanent spinal injuries. There are further complications from having a chair (howdah) attached to their backs. This clunky contraption rubs on their backs, causing blisters that can become infected. In addition, wear and tear on the elephant’s feet after long-term trekking can cause foot infections and injuries.

Elephant trekking on Koh Samui
Elephant trekking on Koh Samui. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Captive elephants are routinely denied nutritious food, adequate water, and needed veterinary care. Most captive elephants die decades short of their normal lifespan.

Elephant Mental Health

In nature, Elephants lives in complex matriarchal herds. They are very sociable animals but in captivity they are often not engaging with other elephants. Some essentially live in solitary confinement.

Additionally, elephants have an incredible memory, they pretty much never forget. Researchers have found that elephants who are subjected to this “breaking” or “crush” process often develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally the constant fear of being beaten up like they were during their training is what motivates them to comply and work.

Many elephant camps continue to employ bull-hooks to control the animals.

The Elephant Sanctuary Trap

As public awareness of cruelty to captive elephants has increased, many attractions are trying to dupe tourists by adding words such as “sanctuary,” “rescue center,” “refuge,” and “retirement facility” to their names.

The Kardashian responded to criticisms to say she had researched the sanctuary before visiting. She wrote: ‘We visited an elephant sanctuary that has rescued these elephants from Sumatra where they would have otherwise gone extinct. It is an organisation that is working to save these beautiful animals. We did full research before going.’

As a rule of thumb, if we offer you anything other than seeing elephants, don’t go.
If an elephant ‘sanctuary’ or wildlife park offers elephant riding, circuses or painting shows, you can be certain the elephants have undergone horrific abuse to get them to where they are.

elephant trekk

While some places might market their experience as humane and say they don’t use bullhooks, the fact that the elephants are being used for trekking means that they have been tamed. You may not see the beating and abuse but it undoubtedly happen.

You Could Die

If the arguments above were not enough to convince you, maybe the fear of dying for a selfie will.

Between 2010 and 2016 in Thailand alone, 17 fatalities and 21 serious injuries to people by captive elephants were reported in the media. Unreported incidences involving local elephant keepers are likely to make this figure much higher.

Please don’t go trekking on the back of an elephant in Asia or visit a circus with elephants anywhere in the world. Even if the animal was born in captivity, the training methods are always the same.

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