Should I Ride That Elephant or Pet That Tiger?

As the world focuses on Cecil the Lion and the American dentist who hunted him down for his own entertainment, there are far too many animals being used and abused.  I’m not talking about hunting here, I’m talking about entertainment. The circus, the zoo, animal parks, and more.  It’s remarkable how much people are willing to pay to see an animal perform.

An orangoutang, a bear, a hippo, a giraffe and an elephant crowd into a room. You might think that’s the beginning of a knock-knock joke, but it’s no joke.  A Chinese television station, according to Animals Asia‘s website, packed each of those animals into a room for a New Year’s eve TV show.  There’s no reason reason to have a hippo or giraffe in a TV studio.

The 2011 hit movie “Water for Elephants” was accused of poor treatment of the elephants used in the film.  There was secret footage taken of animals being mistreated to get them perform for the film.  Allegations have also been made against movies like “The Hangover,” which was filled partially in Thailand, and where celebrities visited some of the same “camps” I mention below.

In March of this year, Ringling Brothers Circus, changed their stance on elephant performances.  After a year-long Mother Jones investigation detailing years of mistreatment, diseases spread in captivity, premature separation from mothers and enormous amounts of time spent chained up, the circus has decided to phase out elephant shows by the end of 2018.  Why it will take the next 3 years to phase them out, I don’t know.

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In an earlier post I talked about my mixed feelings after visiting an elephant conservation center  and Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand.   In October 2014 a Tiger mauled a tourist at a Phuket Tiger Kingdom location.  There have been many incidents over the years of tourist being attacked by animals in these so-called “parks.”   In 2013, a British teen was scared for life after being attacked at a Bangkok tiger park run by monks.  In 2011 a Thai woman suffered severe head damage after being mauled in a Pattaya, Thailand park.  In 2009 a tourist from New Zealand was killed at a tiger park in Chiang Mai, which has since been closed by the Thai government.  Following the Phuket attack a government official said he didn’t understand why tourists think its safe to cuddle wild animals.  It’s something I would think about before ever deciding to get into a cage with a wild animal again.


That paw is awfully close to Howie’s head!

Many of the tigers were napping and lying around in the heat, but many were active, very active. And anything could have happened.  I was very nervous at times (in fact more often than not.)

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These tigers aren’t sleepy and we’re inside the cage.

In January of this year, singer Beyonce and Jay-Z, along with their 2-year old daughter, were photographed in Phuket, Thailand at FantaSea Ultimate Culture show featuring tigers and elephants. The photos sparked controversy among animal activists and renewed the discussion in Thailand about animals as entertainment.

Image from

Image from

Plenty more tiger photos at the end of the post.  But now, to Elephant.

Intrepid Travel is one of the largest and highly recognized travel companies in the world and they have taken a very strong stance saying “So at Intrepid we took a stance over two years ago and began to phase out venues of concern and elephant rides. From January this year, we no longer offer elephant rides on any of our trips. Instead we are going to a limited number of places where elephant welfare is clearly highly prioritised and the elephants are free to move without restraint for much of the day.”  (If you want to read their entire post about this, you can find it here.)

When we visited Chiang Mai, it was really important to me to visit a place that did not offer rides. I also wanted to ensure that we found a place that was respected for their treatment of elephants.  Unfortunately, I ended up feeling uneasy about the visit and disappointed in what I saw.  While the part of the camp we visited did not offer rides, the camp had another facility up the road that did offer elephant rides.   We saw elephants that were chained up in fields.   Elephants are social animals in live in large herds.  At a camp, they are living in unnatural herds and this can create problems.  Often times elephants are chained at these camps to prevent them from fighting with each other.

One of the elephants I saw, and took a photo of, had letters etched into its skin.  It wasn’t a word, just letters of the alphabet.  I asked the trainers about it and none of them could explain why the animal had letters etched on its side.  It was sad.

According to WWF, about 90% of Thailand’s Asian Elephants are privately owned and used for tourism.  Elephants are extremely valuable in Thailand and worth about 2.5 million baht a piece (just over $70k USD).   So, elephant tourism is very important to the Thai elephant owners, primarily because the government outlawed logging/deforestation in 1998 leaving 20,000 elephants out of work.

According to some animal welfare organizations, there are good places to visit elephants and even tigers. Most experts agree, riding elephants for fun it’s right and should be avoided.  However, spending time with elephants, watching them paint, for example, or feeding them seems to be acceptable.   Any animal tricks, like standing on two feet, is a sign of mistreatment and those places should be avoided.

So should you ride that elephant? Should you pet that tiger?  In the end it’s up to you, but my opinion changed after having the experience and seeing up close what happens inside the cages.   Animals are not for our entertainment.  Animals Asia has launched a campaign, backed by many celebrity activists, to put an end to animal performance cruelty.  You can learn more about the campaign here.  I actually feel pretty horrible about contributing to the cruelty and I would urge you to seriously consider how you’ll feel before you book a trip.

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Image from Animals Asia website

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Image from Animals Asia website

It’s my opinion that animals should be viewed in the wild or at conservation facilities that are reputable and don’t mistreat them.  Elephants should be chained and tigers should be allowed to do whatever it is tigers do.  What do you think?

Here’s some photos from our trip.  It didn’t take long for the trainer to get out his stick here.  These tigers were pretty active.

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Do you see 3 tigers? I do

A bit more play time…mind you we’re in the cage.

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And then there are those moments when the tiger turns and give you a look…

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The tigers like to watch you from behind logs…

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And then there are the caged tigers. A rare white tiger and others that aren’t “active.”  Tigers that aren’t “active” don’t interact with tourists…it has nothing to do with their activity level.  The cages are small and provide little space for the animals to move around.


And then some elephants

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