Elephant trekking, or elephant riding, has long been on the Asia traveler’s bucket list. Whether learning how to be a mahout in Thailand, tracking rhino and tiger through the jungles of Nepal or riding a rescued elephant in a Sri Lankan sanctuary, elephant rides have traditionally been seen as a way of getting closer to nature while simultaneously conserving this endangered species. However, more and more travelers and tour operators are starting to question the ethics of riding these wild animals, as well as the methods used to train them. And the more questions that are asked about elephant riding, the more it becomes clearer that not only is this not an ethical means of conserving elephants – it is, in fact precipitating their extinction in the wild. No more than 45,000 Asian elephants remain in their natural environment, scattered across 13 countries in ever decreasing patches of land; they are classified as endangered throughout their range. The more elephants that are taken from their natural habitat to supply temples, sanctuaries and camps, the smaller their chances of survival.
These days, no animal lover would dream of purchasing ivory – yet riding an elephant while on vacation could ultimately have the same impact on elephant populations.