When we visited Jaipur, we had the opportunity to go to Amer Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Exploding with rich history and architecture, I struggled to take in the beauty of it all, as my experience was tainted by this place still offering tourists the chance to ride an elephant to the top.
Being super passionate about elephant conservation and elephant welfare, seeing this going on was quite upsetting for me. I believe there are no such thing as “ethical” elephant riding. Having done extensive research into elephant riding, in the hopes of educating others, I know that anatomically speaking, elephants spines are not designed to be weight bearing, so the weight of humans, and the additional weight of the chair put elephants under immense pressure and discomfort. Often riding an elephant is compared to riding a horse, but these two animals are very structurally different, and elephants are often left with serious spinal and foot injuries after repeatedly giving rides. Furthermore, the process of domesticating an elephant so they are submissive and capable of giving rides to humans, known as phajaan, is an extremely cruel process where baby elephants are separated from their mothers and herd, and the elephants spirit is broken through starvation, sleep deprivation, and repeatedly being tortured with bullhooks and spiked bamboo sticks. This causes immense amounts of physical and psychological distress for the elephants, with many of them displaying signs of PTSD after this process.
Knowledge is power, and I think many tourists choose to participate in elephant riding because of a lack of public awareness and knowledge about the consequences of it; so, I encourage anyone visiting Amer Fort or any place that offers elephant riding to do their own research into elephant riding practices so they can make informed decisions about whether this is something that aligns with them, and if they still want to support riding an elephant.
P.S. If you are interested in reading more about the ethical issues surrounding elephant riding, these are some great articles: