Don’t Ride Elephants For Entertainment

Geri Spieler
4 min readJan 5, 2022

Elephant Ride Tourism Supports Abuse

iStock Photo for Getty Images

Three-year-old MeBai, a young elephant in Thailand, was taken from her mother in the wild by an organization that supplies elephants for tourist rides.

To get her ready for her career carting tourists around on her back all day, young MeBai first had to undergo the ritual of making her submissive to her owners through a process called the four “C’s” capture, crush, coercion, and confinement.

It is a long-standing tradition of “phajaan.” or “crush,” the ritual use of abuse on wild elephants to break their spirit and force them to operate out of fear unless they behave the way their captures demand.

The century’s old training to subdue MeBai and others like her involves placing her in a cage called Phajaan. It is so small she can’t sit or move her head. She is starved, beaten, stuck with nails, stabbed in the ears, sleep deprived and beaten with bull hooks.

After her training, she was hired out to a tourist camp to go to work giving rides all day and not allowed to do what elephants need to do to survive, which is to eat 12–18 hours a day, consuming 200–600 pound of leaves and grass and drink 50 gallons of water a day. Instead, they are forced to trek back and forth on the same path all day long, becoming dehydrated and hungry.

MeBai stopped eating and soon was no longer any use to her owners. Thankfully for her because of the Pamper A Pachyderm program, they knew her mother and were able to reunite them.

Fortunately for MeBai, her story has a happy ending as she was eventually saved from a life of drudgery by the Elephant Nature Park. (ENP). This is highly the exception.

Part of a tourist bucket list

Often people think of riding elephants when they visit Southeast Asia as part of the tourist agenda. Most people don’t realize what the elephant goes through to allow them to enjoy a ride on their backs.

This practice of crush is used in every country in Asia, according to Richard Lair, an American expatriate and international relations officer for Thailand’s Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang. Lair has studied domesticated elephants for more than 20 years and is the author of the UN report Gone…



Geri Spieler

Award-winning writer, master researcher, journalist, former Gartner analyst, non-fiction author. Reach me at