Speaking for the Elephants … in memory of Mae Sai Roong

Written by on September 28, 2011 in Asia, Blog, Responsible Tourism, Thailand, Travel - 88 Comments

Yesterday morning, when I turned on my computer after a night of restlessness, my heart sank.

There, on the screen, were two Facebook status updates. One from the Elephant Nature Park & Foundation page stating Mae Sai Roong, an elephant our volunteer group had taken care of when she fell ill on Sept. 10, had taken a turn for the worst. Then, an update time stamped about five hours later from one of the staff with the words that made my cry aloud — “Dear Sai Roong, RIP.”

No. Nonononono.

Mae Sai Roong had only been at the park for a little more than four months. An older girl, she spent her life in the logging and trekking industries, for the most part at elephant camps treating passengers to tick marks on their bucket lists by taking them for treks on her back. She was sold to people in Chiang Mai who had her go to a big elephant camp, and, a little while later, was transferred to smaller elephant camp near the park. Her owner was not happy with the way she was treated at the park, and decided to transfer her — yet again — to another park. However, her feet barely wanted to move after a live of giving rides, so the decision was made. It was time for Mae Sai Roong to retire.  The owner, along with members of Elephant Nature Park,walked her the short distance from her current camp to her new home, the park. The walk took her three hours because, after years of trekking for tourists, her movements were so labored.

I had wanted to wait to talk about Sai Roong and Elephant Nature Park. And, I still plan to fill readers in on my time volunteering at the park in the coming weeks.

But, for now, to honor her life, I wanted to post a few photos of her. And, talk candidly with my readers.

These photos were taken the day she was so ill, she had no strength to do anything but lay down, and the following day, when she stood up. The day she laid down was one of the saddest of my life as I, along with all of the other volunteers, some of the staff and the vets, rushed to fill sand bags and shovel dirt to create a bed for her. We watched as a harness wrapped around her saggy belly was hooked to a crane that tried, in vain, to get her to stand. We watched as she would get tiny bursts of life, sit up, look around at everyone, and then give up and allow herself to simply lay, nearly lifeless on the mound we had quickly created on the hot and humid September afternoon in the jungle.

Two volunteers sit with Mae Sai Roong the day she lays down, Sept. 10, 2011. Photo: Julie-Ann O’Neill

We didn’t think she would last the night. She did. The next morning, when a few girls went to see her, we didn’t think she’d last past breakfast. She did. A couple of hours after their early morning vist, we were informed that, somehow, Sai Roong, had found the strength and the will to live. After laying down for more than an entire day, the elephant had stood up.

Overjoyed, we walked down to where she was being treated a few times on our last day. We spent time feeding her, talking to her, giving her the love that she had been so deprived of in her trekking days.

Surprising everyone, Mae Sai Roong stood up less than 24 hours after her bleak prognosis. Photo: Julie-Ann O’Neill

On September 27, 2011, Mae Sai Roong, “Rainbow,” was finally able to rest, free after nearly a lifetime of suffering due to people supporting the abusive practices of the elephant tourism industry.

She had no elephant friends, but I am sure she was surrounded by a group of volunteers like the ones I spent my time with. Hopefully they were rubbing dirt on her, scratching her back and singing lullabies softly to her.

I had wanted to wait to start talking about this … to first share my stories of the elephants and the park, which was one of the most fulfilling and heart-warming experiences of my life.

But, then Sai Roong passed away. And her death shouldn’t go unnoticed. Instead of just posting that I am sad about her death, I am going to explain to you why, ultimately, she died.

Sai Roong, like most elephants that “work” in Thailand have to go through the a ritual called phajaan, or “crush.” It begins with the baby elephants (usually three to four years old) being taken from their mothers and placed in a small, wooden pen. To get them securely in the pen, these babies are beaten with bamboo, sticks with nails attached to the tip and bull hooks. Once in place, the crush lasts for roughly a week. During this time, they are beaten, bludgeoned, have hooks attached to their sensitive ears, and are deprived of food and water, all in the name of breaking ties with their mothers and becoming domesticated. While in the crush, through the infliction of pain, they learn how to accept riders, do circus tricks and paint. The end result –to crush the elephant’s spirit and deem them domesticated.

And, once they have their souls stomped out, they are simply vessels entertaining people. They are chained. They don’t eat enough. Like humans, elephants have the capability to form relationships and have emotions. But, not the elephants working for the tourists.

People who visit Thailand — and other countries with elephant tourism — don’t realize the damage they cause these elephants when they support trekking camps, go to circuses or buy the paintings done by these creatures. Without knowing, they send a clear message to the elephant tourism industry that shows they support the torture these animals go through early in their life, as well as the horrific conditions they live in as cogs in the tourism wheel.

It’s not my goal to upset readers. What I want, on the day after World Tourism Day, is for readers to KNOW what goes on behind-the-scenes.

Lek Chailert and the Elephant Nature Foundation, work tirelessly to show elephant owners there are other options to training elephants that doesn’t involve abuse. And, they have programs, like the Surin Project, that works with mahouts (ele owners) who had used their animals for street begging and circuses, and shows them there are alternatives for these elephants. The foundation also operates the Jumbo Express, which provides medicinal care and educational assistance for people and elephants in tribes. There’s even more, and a visit to the Web site can fill you in on all the good they do.

She, and the foundation are trying to make an impact on the elephant tourism industry.

You can make an impact, too.

For those who have ridden on elephants, I don’t judge you. I bet you didn’t know what the elephants are subjected to. Now, you do. So go … tell someone else who is going to Thailand (or any other country where eles are part of tourism, because there are far more places that abuse these animals in the name of a dollar than don’t) what I’ve just told you. Then, maybe they will tell someone else. Who will tell someone else.

One day, the message will be loud and clear to the elephant tourism industry: There are ways to train elephants without torture. And ways to make money from elephants without subjecting them to cruel living conditions. Change. Your. Practices. And we, as tourists, will support you.

If you really want to see for yourself the crush, here is a video you can watch. I warn you — it is disturbing and contains VERY graphic images of elephant abuse. But, sometimes people need to see it to believe it.

About the Author

Diana Edelman is an avid traveler who recently spent four years living as an expat. Most notably, Diana spent nearly three years in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she worked with Save Elephant Foundation to raise awareness about the realities of elephant tourism. Currently based in Las Vegas, Diana works in many industries as a publicist, social media expert, content creator and journalist. The co-founder of the Responsible Travel & Tourism Collective, Diana has spoken at conferences about travel blogging and responsible tourism.

88 Comments on " Speaking for the Elephants … in memory of Mae Sai Roong "

  1. andi September 28, 2011 at 5:34 am · Reply

    beautifully written and informative too
    May she RIP.

  2. The Adventures of D September 28, 2011 at 10:35 am · Reply

    Thank you. <3

  3. Katie K. September 28, 2011 at 10:40 am · Reply

    So chilling, Diana. As a fellow lover of these gentle giants, my dream was to ride one but that has now changed. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, and for helping make the change. Love you!

    • The Adventures of D September 28, 2011 at 11:06 am · Reply

      My job is done!!! Katie, THANK YOU for changing your mind. Instead, go spend time at the park and hang out with them and give ’em good scratchies. <3

  4. Phil September 28, 2011 at 11:13 am · Reply

    Thanks for sharing this Diana. I also get frustrated when people look at the world in terms of things they can check off a list. It seems that when this is the case, the experience is about an ego boost without giving any thought to real consequences. I will definitely spread the word.

    • The Adventures of D September 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm · Reply

      Thank you for commenting and for sharing with others. I am all for crossing things off of my list, but I don’t think I am ok with doing at other people’s or animal’s expenses.

  5. Sebastian September 28, 2011 at 11:18 am · Reply

    What a sad story about these elephants. I hope a lot of people get to read your post! This has to stop. RIP Mae Sai Roong!!!

    • The Adventures of D September 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm · Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I wish everyone planning a trip to Thailand, or trips anywhere to see elephants would read this and just take a little something from it. Maybe one day they will.

  6. Raymond @ Man On The Lam September 28, 2011 at 11:44 am · Reply

    That is so sad. When will people realize that there is a price for treating animals the way that they do? I was about to do an elephant trek in Pai, but when I saw how the poor fellas were being treated, i backed out. There’s no excuse for the inhumane treatment many of them receive.

    • The Adventures of D September 28, 2011 at 8:33 pm · Reply

      I am glad you didn’t do the trek. 🙂 The subject is such a touchy one. I was having lunch today with someone and we were talking about it … this topic and all of its facets go so much deeper than I can even begin to wrap my head around at the moment. Thank you for leaving a comment and thank you for sharing this with others.

  7. Mo Orr September 28, 2011 at 2:51 pm · Reply

    Beautiful tribute to all at ENP. RIP Mae Sai Roong. Thanks, Diana, for sharing her story, and the responsibilities that we all have in ethical elephant tourism.

  8. Gray September 28, 2011 at 9:13 pm · Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Diana. I had no idea this practice existed, though I’ve also not been to Thailand. I’m sure you’re right–that most people who ride the elephants don’t realize they’ve been tortured, nor do they probably think to ask. It’s good to get the information out there.

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 12:48 am · Reply

      Gray, you’re welcome. I wanted to share because I don’t think most people know this exists. I had no idea. Now that I know, and was so fortunate to have experienced the park as a week-long volunteer and get to know these animals, I feel like it is my duty, not only as a traveler, but also a writer, to let others know this exists and ask them to help work together to combat this.

  9. Natalie September 29, 2011 at 12:50 am · Reply

    The story is so sad but it is a well written piece that I think will have an effect on people. I can not watch the video because I think I will cry.

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 12:51 am · Reply

      Thank you. I hope it has an effect on people. And I hope they share it. And those people share it. I don’t blame you for not wanting to watch the video. We saw a few videos while we were there, then were given this one if we wanted it. I knew it was graphic and would be hard to watch. After watching a few others while at the park, this one didn’t surprise me the way it would for someone who has never heard of or seen any footage from the crush. Regardless, this was, by far, the most cruel video I have ever watched. In general, I avoid watching anything that will make me cry. When I sat at my computer and watched this, I sobbed. Loudly. I wanted so badly to turn it off, and my eyes kept looking down towards the counter showing me how long I had left. Needless to say, it was the longest 12 or so minutes I have experienced. I needed to watch it though, so I could post it. Otherwise, I never would have sat through the entire thing.

  10. hrimati September 29, 2011 at 7:22 am · Reply

    Elephants are wild aninals, who belong into the Wild! In the hands of humans they don’t stand a chance. This elephant died of illness and lack of nutrition. Can we just share this planet without exploiting Her and our fellow living beings?
    Blessings from India

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 12:53 am · Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to comment! Sai Roong was very well looked after at the park. She had a team of vets and park staff with her at nearly all times. Plus, her mahout. They took very good care of her and worked their best to keep her alive and healthy. I wish we could share the planet without exploiting others. Sadly, so long as there is money to be made, we will do what we can to make that dollar. Whether it is to abuse an elephant so a couple can have a romantic honeymoon that includes a jungle trek on a wobbly bench strapped to an elephant, or going to visit tribes. It all boils down to what motivates people.

  11. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures September 29, 2011 at 7:54 am · Reply

    This is absolutely heartbreaking and I’m so glad that you shown light on it!!!

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 12:53 am · Reply

      Thank you, Andi. I thought about you when I wrote it. I know how much you love the eles!! <3

  12. Kait September 29, 2011 at 9:53 am · Reply

    Visiting the Elephant Nature Park was a heart warming and educational experience for me as well (I visited Thailand last year). So very sad about Mae Sai Roong, but hopefully her story will inspire others to volunteer and support conservation camps such as the one in Mae Taeng Valley. It is devastating to hear stories of anyone abusing these incredible, intelligent and beautiful creatures. Thanks to people like Lek who give these elephants shelter and protection and to people like you who shine some light on the elephant tourism industry. Great job on this post.

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 12:56 am · Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. Her story is very sad, but I do hope it will inspire others to volunteer and support conservation camps. Lek is one of the most inspiring, amazing women I have ever had the fortune to meet. She makes this world a more beautiful place. I really appreciate your note. Hopefully, we can both make it back there sometime soon and spend time with the gorgeous elephants again!

  13. Sherry September 29, 2011 at 11:26 am · Reply

    I also read another article about Thai elephants in which stated that elephants are treated with what some believe as cruel because there is no other ways to train and domesticate these wild animals. Their argument was that if they are treated any different, the elephants would injure or worse, kill its trainer/capture. Personally I think that if a wild animal cannot be trained “properly” away from being wild, then they should remain in the wild. Its such as sad reality. And I’m so glad you brought it to light. I hope that places that treat these elephants badly will come to their senses and realize, in the long run, they actually lose customers and not gain from their practices. I would never patronize a business that treats animals or humans, for that matter, in any way cruel.

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 1:00 am · Reply

      That’s the problem — they publish articles like this but that information is not entirely true. At ENP, they are working to train elephants using a positive reinforcement method. There are a few elephants that are learning this practice. One elephant, Hope, who has been with the park since he was a baby, has only known this type of training. So far, he has learned many things in his 10 years of life. Lek said it will take another 10 years to show how far he has come. For now, he is learning how to do things and be around people. But, hopefully, a decade from now, he will show mahouts there is another way to acclimate elephants. I agree with you though, they should remain in the wild. As for the places that treat eles badly … they won’t stop until people stop patronizing them. And that can’t happen unless people know. So many places tout themselves as sanctuaries, but they have circuses and the like. On the surface, the elephants look happy, but you don’t see what goes on after. The gashes from hooks under their costumes, the chains on their feet at night, the lack of food, the isolation … it goes on. Sadly, it takes the tragedies to shed light on this subject. Maybe one day, that won’t be the case.

  14. Abby September 29, 2011 at 12:18 pm · Reply

    I 100 percent agree with Sherry. This is so sad, and Sai Roong was so magnificent and beautiful. So happy you’re sharing her story.

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 1:01 am · Reply

      Thank you, Abby. She was a beautiful. I wish I would have had the chance to spend more time with her, but I am so glad the time I did spent with her was filled with love.

  15. Erica September 29, 2011 at 12:52 pm · Reply

    Seriously D, you’re doing an awesome job bringing light to the industry. I knew we had wanted to work with that elephant sanctuary but I also had no clue that things were that bad.

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 12:46 am · Reply

      Thank you!! Yeah, it was really eye-opening. And really hard. But, at the same time, being with them was so incredibly uplifting. They are truly amazing animals.

  16. Leigh September 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm · Reply

    I’ll never ride an elephant after reading your beautiful story. Thank you for the education.

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 1:04 am · Reply

      Leigh, thank you for taking the time to comment. I am so glad you won’t ride an elephant!! I am glad my story was able to change your mind. If only I had the funds to take out an ad in an airline magazine!! Now, that would be some serious education!! 🙂

  17. Andrea September 30, 2011 at 3:09 pm · Reply

    Oh no =( That is so sad – very sorry to hear it

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 4:51 pm · Reply

      Thanks for the note! It is very sad. But, at the same time, I am so happy she was able to live out the remaining few months of her life at the park. The work they do, the care they give … such a good thing for these lucky elephants.

  18. Michael Hodson September 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm · Reply

    Really lovely post. Moving and touching. Thank you for sharing it, and your emotions.

    • The Adventures of D September 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm · Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to comment — I know you are pretty busy these days!! It was a VERY hard post to write. I only hope I did Sai Roong and the elephants justice. 🙂

  19. Deb October 2, 2011 at 11:00 am · Reply

    Thank you for sharing. I didn’t know that the elephants went through this horrific crush process. It’s heart breaking. We met UN Ambassador to the Gorilla Ian Redmond when in India. He works with elephants closely too and is an expert in his field. He put it bluntly, “It is a miserable existence being revered.” It is sad, because in these cultures, elephants are supposed to be sacred, why would you treat something so terribly that you have up on a pedestal? Shouldn’t they be loved and treated humanely? I don’t know what the answer is for conservation. We as humans are encroaching on their habitat and they are running out of space. The Born Free Foundation (which we learned about from Ian) talks about the Human Elephant conflict and it is a very real problem. If Elephants are going to survive, we need to figure out a way to co-exist but it seems that human nature is to spread and destroy every species habitat. Somethings got to give.

    • The Adventures of D October 2, 2011 at 7:08 pm · Reply

      Deb, thanks for taking the time to comment. In talking with other travelers (most of which have ridden elephants, etc), they did so because they had no idea it was bad for them, or the horrific crush they must undergo as their “rite of passage” into the tourism industry. I know other articles have been written, but I don’t think most people take the time to do the digging before they go to places like Thailand to see elephants. Most tour books barely talk about the issue. And, they list places to go and trek. Simply including a disclaimer isn’t going to educate people. It is true — for countries that so revere the elephant, they do live a miserable existence. Today, Thailand’s elephants are considered livestock, which means their living conditions and the like are only regulated as livestock, not endangered creatures. I have heard of Born Free. I haven’t had time yet to dig into it. I am pretty overwhelmed at the moment with the large crop of elephant groups and trying to figure out the best way to spur a change. You are right, something has got to give. Sadly, until people become more educated, it will be the elephants giving.

  20. Stephanie - The Travel Chica October 4, 2011 at 7:25 am · Reply

    It is so terrible how they are treated. It is obvious what an impact your time volunteering and Sai Roong had on you.

    • The Adventures of D October 4, 2011 at 10:51 pm · Reply

      Hopefully, I can channel that experience into something positive for the elephants 🙂

  21. Mica October 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm · Reply

    Just got back to my laptop. Horrible. I watched the video. Keep up the good work D. I will share this with others.

    • The Adventures of D October 4, 2011 at 10:51 pm · Reply

      Oh, Mica. You watched the entire video? It is heart-breaking. Thank you for the support. Please share it with others. Especially the tour operators in CM! I hope you had a wonderful birthday trip! Miss you.

  22. Mary October 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm · Reply

    Terribly sad! Do you have any suggestions of “good” places to go to support so we can visit with elephants but support the right type of practices? Thanks so much for writing this, everyone should know and stop supporting this industry. The circus industry worldwide as well!

    • The Adventures of D October 4, 2011 at 10:46 pm · Reply

      Hi Mary, thank you for taking the time to comment. If you are headed to Northern Thailand, then Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is definitely one. Another great one to visit is Boon Lott’s Elephnat Sanctuary. There aren’t many of them, but if you do some research, there could be more. Basically, any park that offers rides, circus shows and/or elephant paintings typically means the conditions there are not ideal — even if they are touted as a sanctuary — and they have all gone through the crush. I agree, everyone should know about these practices. You can write to tour books and ask them to include larger sections on elephant abuse and remove listing of parks that offer rides and the like. I am thinking about putting up a letter for people to use, along with contact information for editors, so anyone can send a message to them letting them know tourists don’t want to support these practices. Thank you for the support!

  23. Abi October 7, 2011 at 3:35 am · Reply

    What a sad tale. While most of this sounds simply horrific, I often find myself drawn to the more complex aspects of working with animals. Do you know whether there is a more humane way to train elephants, as there (arguably) is with dogs, horses and cats? Or is this awful “crush” the only technique…

    • The Adventures of D October 8, 2011 at 1:20 am · Reply

      It is sad. There is a more humane to work with elephants, and Elephant Nature Park, as well as other places, are working to show that positive reinforcement (rewarding with food versus punishing with torture) can work. The crush is not the only way, but it is the way that has been … hopefully the foundation and other organizations and animals rights groups can help educate people in regards to this and share what the progress they are witnessing so no elephant ever has to go through that ritual again.

  24. David October 7, 2011 at 11:32 pm · Reply

    I am sorry to say that there are some inconsistencies here:

    Methamphetamines are indeed fed to the street begging elephants, but it is not to calm them down. They are “uppers”,it is to keep them going.

    If I am not mistaken, the Elephant Nature Park “rescues” (in other words, buys) the elephants from their owners. Would this not then allow that owner to then go and buy another elephant, (most likely form the Burmese border, where it has been captured from the wild) that he can then also mistreat and in time, sell to the Elephant Nature Park, for a profit? As far as the owner is concerned, it is just another business transaction and he is getting rewarded financially for it.

    The Asian elephant is in a dire situation and needs our help, but please be aware of the impact your words have. Thank you.

    • The Adventures of D October 8, 2011 at 1:18 am · Reply

      Hi David, I responded to you via e-mail, but also wanted to respond publicly. I appreciate you taking the time to comment on this post and to educate me and my readers. This is a subject that has many layers and cannot ever be addressed in one post. I recognize the impact my words have, and my goal was to enlighten my readers so they could take the appropriate actions and not support the practices of this industry in Thailand and other countries. I wanted them to be aware of where the money goes, and the practices that occur in the name of elephant tourism. I wanted them to know they shouldn’t ride elephants, support the circuses, or purchase paintings, and I think I made that clear. The Asian elephant IS in a dire situation. And, with education, we can all work together to make a step towards helping them. I welcome your insight as to how we can best address this topic and work together to educate readers of my blog, as well as the general public.

  25. Technosyncratic Travel October 11, 2011 at 8:36 am · Reply

    Thank you for writing this. When we were in India last year we rode on an elephant up to a fort; we were with my graduate program (so there was someone who organized this for us), so initially we didn’t think anything of it. I was thrilled to interact with the elephant and it seemed fairly active, but still the whole thing was unsettling.

    Anyhow, since then I’ve read a lot more about what elephants in the tourism industry are put through, so when we head to Thailand next month I very much don’t want to be a part of that. I’d love to visit some sort of rehabilitation/retirement conservancy for elephants, though. They’re such beautiful animals (and so intelligent), so I’d love to interact with them in a more appropriate and respectful manner.

    • The Adventures of D October 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm · Reply

      I am so glad you took the time to learn more about the industry. There are a few rehab/retirement places in Thailand. Beware though — some will call themselves sanctuaries but still have circuses, treks and paintings to buy. You need to find a place that just lets them live in the jungle. I recommend Elephant Nature Park an hour outside of Chiang Mai. You can do a day trip that lets you feed them, bathe them and walk the park with a guide to meet a good amount of the 30-plus they have there. Plus, they feed you some seriously good Thai food. They also have an over-night program. And, if you have time and funds, a week-long volunteer program. I did it, and clearly, it motivated me to get more involved in helping these beautiful creatures. The program truly is an experience of a lifetime. I will be writing about it in-depth in the coming weeks. If you have any questions about your upcoming trip, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

  26. Laura December 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm · Reply

    So, I’ll never ride an elephant but I still hope I’ll be able to touch one someday.

    • The Adventures of D December 5, 2011 at 10:02 pm · Reply

      I am so glad you won’t ride one! I hope you can touch one someday, too!

  27. Tina December 16, 2011 at 4:03 am · Reply

    I couldn’t get through the video as it was too upsetting, but I DO have a 2-day visit planned to the Elephant Nature Park in just under a month and I look forward to partaking in responsible, sustainable tourism and also interacting with these fascinating animals!

    • The Adventures of D December 16, 2011 at 10:12 pm · Reply

      That video is extremely upsetting. I couldn’t watch it without audibly sobbing. I am so glad you are visiting the park. It is an emotional and wonderful experience. Please let me know about your time there when you are done!

      • Tina February 4, 2012 at 9:44 am · Reply

        Hi there – I wanted to update you and say that I visited the Elephant Nature Park last month. Oh, what an experience. Oh, I miss the elephants, every cute one of them. Gosh. I don’t even know what to say. I was incredibly moved by it all and have since decided to create a little site in Italian about elephants (I live in Italy). Sadly, there is really not very much information out there in Italian – and Italians love to visit Thailand. If they could at least know what to avoid on their trips, that would be a start! I’ll provide a link when it’s done!

        • Diana February 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm · Reply

          Tina, I am so glad you had such an experience while at the park. Please, create your site and spread the word! Keep me updated. 🙂

  28. Bodlagz December 20, 2011 at 9:40 pm · Reply

    It’s time to stop animal exploitation, too many tourist attractions in Thailand rely on it. More post like this one are required to bring it to the tourists attention.

    • The Adventures of D December 20, 2011 at 11:48 pm · Reply

      That is very true — it would be great if other bloggers and travel writers could tackle this subject. 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  29. Angela December 21, 2011 at 6:10 am · Reply

    This really makes my blood boil. I hate anything men do that cause pain or suffering to animals, I can’t even stand seeing animals in a zoo, even if they are (supposedly) treated well, it’s not natural if a penguin lives in a zoo in a tropical country, so why not leave animals alone in their natural environment? Thanks for your account, very sad.

    • The Adventures of D December 21, 2011 at 8:31 pm · Reply

      It is very sad. Unfortunately, so long as people continue paying money to see these things, and there is still the demand, nothing will change. It’s my hope that people can at least read this and tell someone who tells someone so maybe, one day, these camps won’t offer rides, but instead just the chance to spend time with them.

  30. Laurel December 23, 2011 at 7:36 am · Reply

    This broke my heart. I used to live in Thailand and was always horrified to see elephants in the busy streets of Bangkok – all so that tourists could feed them a banana. Thank you for shedding light on the terrible treatment of elephants.

    • The Adventures of D December 23, 2011 at 1:55 pm · Reply

      Laurel, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Being at the park for the week broke my heart as well. But, at the same time, it was really uplifting being there and knowing these elephants were being taken care of and living the rest of their lives in peace. A young ele was just hit the other week in BKK. He’s recovering now at a hospital, but it’s so sad. Especially since I am pretty sure street begging is now outlawed.

  31. Agnes February 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm · Reply

    Dear Diane,
    I read about you in the sunday Review Journal Living section. Now I just read about this trip on the computer. But, I would not watch the part were they crush the spirit of the Elephant Baby. I have been many times in Africa, andI will NEVER go to a circus again. And Zoo’s, I am not sure. I am not sure if I could go to that Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. I am not the youngest, and in all my travels I have always gone with groups, of not more than 16 people. How and where could I get information about going to that place in Thailand. I would very much appreciate any help.
    Thank You very much, Agnes

    • Diana February 14, 2012 at 4:35 pm · Reply

      Hi Agnes, Thank you so much for being in touch. I will send you a private e-mail to answer your questions.

  32. Alexa Meisler February 15, 2012 at 3:49 pm · Reply

    This is heartbreaking but I am glad that Mae Sai Roong was handled with the best of care and now the elephant can rest in peace. Thank you for posting pictures as well as the video. Mae Sai Roong is beautiful.

    • Diana February 16, 2012 at 8:28 pm · Reply

      It was very heart-breaking! I am so glad you took the time to read the post. She was a beautiful elephant. 🙂

  33. Carla Pickett July 9, 2012 at 1:11 pm · Reply

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I knew they had to have their spirit broken and but didn’t know the extent of the brutality in the crush. I have never gone to an animal circus and never will. I also knew never to support the tourism industry that uses “domesticated” wild animals of any sort for anything. It’s amazing how many people defend the circus because they think training an elephant is no different than training a dog. I have shared your article on my facebook page and hopefully it will get shared repeatedly. I would love to and visit them and volunteer. Maybe someday.

    • Diana July 10, 2012 at 9:22 pm · Reply

      I think most people, at least as it relates to tourism in SE Asia and there parts of the world, just don’t know any better. Thank you so much for taking the time to not only comment, but to share this post with your friends on Facebook. Changing one mind is a beautiful thing! I am actually going back there tomorrow to work with the park for a bit. Very excited!

  34. Melanie Murrish October 15, 2012 at 8:07 am · Reply

    A friend of mine recently ‘rode’ on an elephant in Thailand and I was so jealous. I consider myself to be quite well-educated and after watching the video I cannot believe how naive I am! What in the world made me think that these giant, strong, majestic animals would voluntarily carry person after person around on their backs! I feel truly ignorant and ashamed, but I have learnt a valuable lesson today and feel better that I learnt it before ever visiting Thailand. Thank you so much for sharing.x

    P.s. I am hoping that if I had ever visited Thailand before reading this post that my better judgement would have prevented me from riding an elephant, but I’m honestly not so sure-so thanks again.x

    • Diana October 16, 2012 at 10:17 pm · Reply

      Melanie, don’t be hard on yourself. I have met so many people who say the same thing to me. You did not know. But, the good thing is you took the time to learn, and now that you are aware, you have made an educated decision. And, will help spread the word about this to others who may not know. Before I arrived to Thailand and learned about this, I, too, wanted to ride an elephant. Be sure to help share Sai Roong’s story and raise awareness about these creatures and responsible tourism.

  35. zaydee November 25, 2012 at 12:20 am · Reply

    i feel so bad upon learning about this. had i not watched a video of a painting elephant, i may never know. i went on a familiarization cruise 3 years ago since i worked for a cruiseliner that time and so we had to see the excursion tours as well. and there in the safari island in phuket, thailand i was able to experience the elephant ride. Fed them bananas and watched them perform tricks during a scorching hot day. i even remember asking the guy during the elephant ride upon noticing a bleeding hole in the center of its forehead, he said that the elephant only bumped into something. and i’ve seen that stick with a pointed metal on the tip, too. i wondered if they don’t feel hurt carrying 3 or more people on top of it with a huge iron seat during the entire journey. SIGH. thank you so much for posting this. i hope that their government and people give these elephants the freedom they deserve, and let them live the way they should. i am not proud of that experience, instead i am deeply saddened., i hope you will give me the permission to repost your blog so others will become aware as well and not support such cruelty.. thank you.

    • Diana December 3, 2012 at 3:35 am · Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to READ it and to learn. So many people see what you describe and never think anything of it. Don’t beat yourself up over your experience. Use what you have learned to educate others so they won’t participate in activities like this. Please, repost. If you’d like, I have other articles I can send you, too, which can shed more light on this topic. Feel free to contact me via my Web site.

  36. Lourika April 24, 2013 at 11:21 pm · Reply

    Hi Diana,
    Thank you for this post!!
    My Boyfriend and I have been living in Phuket for over a year. We drive past 4 elephant riding camps daily. I see baby elephants on 30cm chains. My heart breaks every time!!! Do you know about any elephant rehabs here in Phuket where I can volunteer??? I would love to help in any way I can!!!


    • Diana May 9, 2013 at 2:16 am · Reply

      Hi, I don’t know any place in Phuket which rehabs the elephants, unfortunately. If you are interested in working with the elephants though, check out http://www.saveelephant.org. There is Surin Project and others where you can help.

  37. Enrico Mossa April 25, 2013 at 12:03 pm · Reply

    Thank you so much for this. My fiancee and I are going to Thailand for our honeymoon in a few months, and were planning on visiting both elephant and tiger tourism locations. Something just didn’t seem right, so we did some research, and were absolutely heart broken to learn the truth of how these animals are treated. We’ll be visiting Nature Park, and donating to the cause! Please let me know if there are any other responsible tourism locations in Thailand that you are aware, elephant, tiger, or any others!

    Thank you!!

    • Diana May 9, 2013 at 2:15 am · Reply

      I am so glad you researched it and learned more about everything. It is sad, but there are places that do good! 🙂

  38. Denise Scheffers June 25, 2014 at 9:50 am · Reply

    Just wanted to say that Its great what you are doing. People should be aware that this is happening. I really hate those basterds!!Im also give money every month for the care of baby elephants who have no parents anymore. Its a dutch foundation called vrienden voor de olifant and they have many houses in africa for the elephants to take care and protect against hunters. I really wish this sick thing called phajaan will end but I dont know how we can stop this?? Its so damn horrific!! People are really monsters.

    • Diana June 25, 2014 at 11:59 pm · Reply

      The best way to help make a chance to the way these animals are treated is through education. 🙂

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