One More Reason to Never Ride an Elephant

While elephant rides have been a disturbing norm in Asia for thousands of years, there’s a recent, growing demand for these rides in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. But it could come at a high price. A new report from World Animal Protection (WAP) cautions that more African elephant rides could lead to even more poaching.

Elephant Rides, Selfies and Circus Tricks

As reported in ABC News, the tourists flocking to Africa for that wildlife experience are flooding social media with images of themselves sitting on top of elephants, using elephants as props for selfies and even catching elephants in the act of performances and tricks.

I guarantee you that 15 million years of evolution didn’t prepare elephants to look good for a selfie, and it’s a shame to see majestic creatures reduced in such demeaning ways. But elephants have much bigger problems — they’re just trying to survive. Every 15 minutes an elephant is poached, and, at this rate, none will be left roaming wild in 2025, says iworry. Every year, poachers rob the earth of 36,000 elephants for their tusks.

Experts fear that the budding demand for African elephant rides will only incentivize poachers. Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, WAP’s wildlife programs manager, explained to ABC News, “It may also lead to poaching pressure on wild animals [because] as soon as we have more value on animal, you will create demand for these kinds of animals.” While elephant rides have existed for 4,000 years in Asia, it’s fairly recent in Africa; the African elephant rides only took off in the 1990s. In southern Africa today, particularly South Africa, 25 of the 39 current commercial elephant venues offer rides, and there’s approximately 215 elephants forced into captivity. Many of these elephants are bred to be sold to other African or Asian parks. A young elephant can be sold for as much as $60,000.

3 More Reasons NOT to Ride an Elephant

Captivity is no life for an elephant. Many argue that given their physical, social and emotional needs, there’s no ethical way to keep an elephant in captivity. Here are 3 more reasons you’ll never want to find yourself on top of an elephant in Asia, Africa or any other continent:

1. Elephants have their spirits systematically broken: Elephants have been beaten — some as stolen wild babies who witnessed his whole family be slaughtered just for his capture — into submission. Worse yet, they’re emotionally manipulated to trust and rely on their handler, or mahout, as their only source of affection. If you think that it can’t really be that bad, then I challenge you to watch the video below.

(Warning: some viewers may find these images disturbing.)

2. The elephant’s welfare is in question: While the elephant may look happy and healthy to the untrained eye, many captive elephants suffer in silence. Some elephants are chained up for hours on end, they receive no protection from the elements, they’re often overworked and they’re deprived of food and water. In Vietnam, one 40-year-old elephant collapsed and died from pure exhaustion, under tourists’ weight.

3. Elephant rides can be dangerous: While elephants have surprised us with their mental and emotional intelligence, these are still wild animals. That wild spirit is never completely gone. There have been many documented cases of elephants turning on their mahouts and unsuspecting tourists. In Thailand, one elephant gored his mahout and ran off with 3 tourists on his back. There’s also the threat of disease. In one case, an elephant transferred tuberculosis to his handler.

Take Action!

Africa doesn’t have to be another Asia. Given the infancy of Africa’s elephant rides, the elephants can still be transitioned back to the wild and the locals can be transitioned to other work. Please sign and share this petition demanding the end to pointless elephant rides that could put already endangered elephants at more poaching risk.

Photo Credit: Chris Parker


Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla3 years ago

How sad, how sad!!! I've share this for years, we need to educate people. But I think this happens in Thailand and near places, not South Africa. It does not matter, this is beyond wrong!

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Graham P.
Graham P3 years ago

After reading this article do we need any other reason not to Sign and Share the petition.

heather g.
heather g3 years ago

It seems like the author has convinced readers that elephants are undergoing the terrible treatment shown in your video - and that this is taking place in South Africa.
That's very misleading and it is a deliberate attempt to misrepresent readers about the treatment of elephants in South Africa.
The author obviously doesn't tell us where that video was recorded. The people look Indian, but that still doesn't say where that cruel treatment takes place. It would be more helpful to sign a petition to stop that cruel abuse. What a pity this was not done for readers who would have signed the petition in the thousands. A missed opportunity - Jessica Ramos.

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago


Ricky T.
Ricky T3 years ago

I never thought it was an issue, quite innocent. But scratch beneath the surface, it is part of the essential tourist trade in those countries, and as we know, animals & tourism don't mix well in terms of ethical standards.

Christine Ko
.3 years ago

Thank a lot for this article! Poor elephants...

Carol P.
Carol P3 years ago

Sometimes the sheer volume of animal-advocacy posts leaves me wondering where the line is. If you're against human interactions with elephants, shouldn't you also be against human interaction with any other animal? What about horses? Should we no longer ride them? I'm sure that many house cats could survive without humans. Should we be against having them as pets as well?

And what about all of the ways in which wildlife tourism actually reduces the risks for wild animals? Haven't the places that have found ways to make money from animal safaris and the like actually seen a decrease in poaching because the humans who live there can find ways to survive other than living off the land?

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Already signed

Thomas M.
Thomas M3 years ago

Why can't humans just leave our wildlife alone? Please! I swear we are getting dumber by the day. Oh, let's go ride an elephant today. Get off your arses and walk yourself.