I feel like I should start this blog post with a confession: back in 2012, my family and I went to India for an amazing, jam-packed wedding and vacation. While there, we took part in one of the activities that we came upon in Jaipur: riding an elephant. Two at a time, we got on the elephant and rode the animal up and down the street while those who weren’t on the elephant waved and took pictures.
I don’t regret that much in my travels, but I definitely regret that situation. In recent years, I’ve learned how bad it is to ride elephants, and after my recent trip to the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, I felt the need to not only share my experience there but also disclose that I once made the mistake of taking part in the very activity that harms one of my favorite animals. In this case, knowledge is absolutely power.
Before going to Thailand, I looked up various elephant sanctuaries and cross-checked them with sites that recommended sanctuaries that are truly ethical (some places may claim to be sanctuaries but in practice are not). That’s how I came upon the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT).
WFFT is a non-profit founded in 2001 that rescues maltreated and/or neglected wild animals and rehabilitates them as much as possible. Over the years, they have literally cared for thousands of animals with the help of other animal protection organizations, their staff, their many volunteers and, of course, donations.
I signed up for the full-day experience at WFFT, which included a pick-up from and drop-off at our hotel in Bangkok for an additional fee. It does make for a long day since Bangkok is located about two and a half hours from WFFT, but I didn’t mind the drive at all (granted I slept two hours in the car on the way to WFFT). It was a chance to see some of the Thai countryside, which was very interesting.
The day consisted of a welcome by the staff, and then we were split into groups for a guided tour of the Wildlife Rescue Centre and to learn about all of the animals currently staying there. Following the morning tour, we enjoyed a Thai buffet lunch, and then in the afternoon, we got to feed and bathe one of the elephants (mine was named Bundi) and take a tour around the entire site.
There were so many sad and heartbreaking stories told to us during our time there. For example, there’s Pai Lin, who’s the oldest elephant at the sanctuary and she has to stay in her own enclosure because she’s terrified of other elephants (she tries to hide behind a tree when she sees them). Her ears have been ripped with bell hooks, which are often used by people looking to “train” elephants, and her spine is visibly dented from having been ridden in the past.
Then there are the many gibbons who were kept as pets for years and often abandoned by their owners. One of the gibbons couldn’t swing from trees (as is their nature) because he was so conditioned as a pet that sat around in diapers that it’s now no longer natural for him to do what’s natural to his breed.
Throughout the day, we heard the stories of many of the animals there…even the two cows currently making WFFT their home after they both lost limbs and weren’t of any use to their former owners. All of the animals’ personal stories highlighted the fact that humans can sometimes do some pretty cruel and/or inhumane things, whether knowingly or unknowingly, but being knowledgeable about the mistreatment of animals brings us one step closer to people not abusing them (assuming they’re knowledgeable and make that conscious decision).
So, the next time you see the opportunity to ride an elephant, please don’t. Yes, they’re big but their spines aren’t meant to hold that kind of weight. And if you ever see a show or place where they parade monkeys in diapers around like pets, don’t support it.
I’m so glad I got the opportunity to visit WFFT to learn about the work them and other similar organizations are doing to help abused animals.