Elephant riding, yay or nay?

Updated: Apr 30

Elephants have long been exploited as transportation animals, but with the development in technology and its efficiency, the latest and more famous use for elephants is the tourism industry. I'm going to be very blunt in this episode: if it wasn't for a tourist demand, elephants would not be exploited the way they are. So, today, I interview Nia Klatte, expert in the topic, who shares with us EVERYTHING you must know before you hop on this magnificent animal. 

But before, some general information to get you started.

In the 70's, Elephant camps started to welcome tourists as it seemed as an economic opportunity for elephants and their mahouts (the owners and elephant trainers). However, the growing demand of tourism sector started to create pressure that resulted in a heavy toll on elephants that were tamed and ridden. Along with the growing demand of elephant experiences came the emergence of animal welfare organizations and industry professionals that started to fight against the exploitation of elephants in camps across Asia. 

With the mainstream media acting out fighting against elephant riding, even more negative impacts have left elephants now being ridden in the hard floors of major cities like Bangkok.

If you are planning to see the elephants on your next trip to Asia or Africa, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into, the pros and cons of the experience. You might be surprised after hearing this episode, that maybe the best thing is to be part of the experience but be responsible about it. 

Some baseline facts: 

  • *It costs around $80 USD per day to maintain a good quality of life for a single elephant. So be wary of low cost elephant camps!

  • *If you decide to ride an elephant: be sure the elephants just ride less than 5 hours a day in a natural environment and in the shade. You can sit in their neck or saddle, but the saddle should not apply pressure in their spine and be very cushioned to prevent abrasions.

  • *Make sure their are respecting human life too! Mahouts or elephant keepers are also workers in this industry!

But there is more. Make sure you listen to this episode with Nia, to understand the context in which this industry develops. It might help you make a decision in regards to elephant riding. 

More resources:

Nia recommended this article with all the ins and outs of Elephant riding, check it out!


About our Guest:


Nia (MA in Tourism and Social Anthropology) is a sustainable and responsible tourism specialist. Working in South East Asia since 2013, she combines her passion for sustainable development within the travel and hospitality industry. She’s currently the Regional Sustainability Coordinator of Khiri Travel and the Executive Director Khiri Reach Foundation, making destinations more sustainable and responsible as focusing on the triple-bottom-line: People, Planet, Profit.



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