The idea behind Ride Bikes, Not Elephants came from brainstorming an idea to promote a more elephant friendly type of experience. Riding on an elephant actually causes a lot of physical damage to an elephants back, and not only that, elephants that perform tourist rides are almost always controlled with a vicious bull-hook. A bull-hook is used to contain a trekking elephant by fear, striking an elephant on the back of the head or behind the ear if it fails to obey a command, this causes a great deal of pain, stress and confusion for an elephant which can result in a dangerous struggle between animal and mahout (elephant trainer/carer). Trekking elephants also work all day and often into the night inducing even more issues. Trekking elephants frequently lose their babies, either because they are overworked before a baby is born or because they don’t get enough rest after a baby has arrived. Some elephants have even been subjected to powerful amphetamines to keep them working longer into the night!
The Asian Elephant is listed as an Endangered Species (IUCN) yet tourists continue to pay (often large amounts) of money to ride on their backs causing them physical pain and mental anguish. This form of elephant control is one of the main reasons I would rather ride a bike than an elephant.
The other main reason I would rather ride a bike and not an elephant is the treatment of captive elephants in general today. Throughout history, the elephants of Thailand were trained and used for many purposes; they helped win battles and wars, they’re used in wedding ceremonies and most recently for logging operations.
The people of Thailand revere their elephants not just as beasts of burden but as an almost godly creature. An elephant was once adorned on the nations flag. Coins, notes, buddhist temples, drinks, food, shop fronts and clothes all use elephant symbols to represent strength, wisdom and success. So why are 2500 captive elephants beaten, broken, ill-cared for and used for elephant trekking, painting and circuses?
Money. People will often blame Thai people for this treatment of their elephants, but it’s not that simple. Asian Elephants need to eat around 300kg of food per day, that fact alone makes an elephant a most costly animal to care for. Before 1990, the biggest employer of elephants was logging, but in 1989 rainforest logging in Thailand was banned, therefore people who owned elephants turned to probably the only viable legal option; elephant tourism.
Now some 20 years later elephant tourism is everywhere in Thailand, from the streets of big cities to the famous white sandy beaches. It’s big business, elephant camps charge $100US for a day ticket. The problem isn’t so much that the animals are domestic but the way these animals are trained to perform. Almost 100% of these elephants are trained to fear a bull-hook; to perform a trick properly or suffer the stabbing pain of the hook. It’s a brutal way to learn, yet it has been this way for hundreds of years. It can take an elephant more than a week of intensive hook and stabbing ‘training’ before the wild animal is broken.
I’ve personally seen the hook used many times in my life and I’m sad to say that it works, but it is not the only effective way of training an elephant. A new approach is the positive re-inforcement training method, which I have also seen first hand. with this positive type of training an elephant is asked (not told) to perform a task (such as lifting a foot to check for infection), if the elephant performs the task correctly he/she is given a reward (such as a banana). This method works so well that I was amazed, elephants were lining up to get their feet checked! I’m sure you’ll agree that that rewarding an elephant is a much better method than punishing an elephant.
Today, an elephant in Thailand costs around US$10,000 to buy, it’s even more for a baby elephant or a male with tusks. It is illegal to poach elephants from the wild, yet the number of domestic elephants is growing while the number of elephants in the wild is dropping. It’s estimated there are around 4000 elephants in Thailand and only about 1000 of them are wild. 100 years ago there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Some ecologists believe the Asian Elephant will be extinct in less than 40 years…
The aim of Ride Bikes, Not Elephants is to not only raise awareness to the Asian Elephant plight but to try and convince people that if humanity can’t create a good life and save this wonderful species, probably one the most revered animal to live, a symbol of strength, wisdom, success and beauty, if we cant help to save the Asian Elephant, than what hope does any other endangered species have.
Cheers for reading,