If it were up to us, every day would be World Elephant Day! To celebrate the world’s most amazing animals, we’re sharing the best ways to help elephants when you travel.
As you know, I love all the animals! But when asked to pick a favourite, it’s elephants every time. And I’m not alone. Do you now anyone who’s not deeply affected by the majesty of elephants?
Human fascination with elephants is the very thing that makes them so vulnerable.
Humans love to be near elephants, to look into their intelligent eyes, to stroke their unique trunks, and in some cases, to ride them or watch them perform in circuses. Other humans love to prove their manliness by taming elephants using vicious metal hooks, or shooting elephants to sell their ivory.
(Don’t miss: Our guide to choosing the best elephant sanctuary to visit in Cambodia) →
From habitat loss, to poaching for ivory, to human-elephant conflict in populated areas, elephants are being threatened from all angles.
That’s what World Elephant Day is all about — shining a light on the problems facing elephants so we can do something about them.
Now, I know you’re not about to buy an elephant tusk or shoot an African elephant.
But if you’ve ever wanted to ride an elephant, or go to the circus, or be blessed by a temple elephant — just like millions of other tourists have — then you might unknowingly be supporting elephant poaching or sickening cruelty towards elephants.
To help you avoid harming and start helping elephants on world elephant day, here are…
7 Ways to Help Elephants When You Travel
Do not use elephants for entertainment.
If you travel to any country with elephants, you’ll be inundated with opportunities to ride elephants or see elephants paint or watch them perform.
Please say no to elephant entertainment.
And then tell the vendor exactly why you’re saying no:
If you ride an elephant in a throne on its back, you put pressure on the elephant’s spine, which is surprisingly delicate for such a powerful animal. After a few years of this abuse, many elephants are so injured they can no longer carry tourists — so they are killed or abandoned by their owners.
Even if you ride the traditional way, straddling the elephant’s neck, ask yourself:
- Where did this elephant come from?
- Why isn’t it in the wild?
- How was it trained?
Baby elephants are often poached from the wild, trained through crushing, starvation, beating and other cruel practices, and then sold to tour companies. The living conditions for working elephants are almost always terrible, and the elephants are frequently starved, beaten, and enclosed in tiny spaces.
In honour of World Elephant Day, make a commitment to say no to elephant rides, and don’t pay to see them painting, performing, or doing anything other than roaming in the wild!
Do not give money to temple elephants.
You may have noticed that our logo incorporates an elephant – it’s really a representation of the Hindu elephant-headed god, Ganesh. In Hindu mythology, Ganesh represents the balance between feminine wisdom and masculine power – he represents balance in the world.
In Hindu temples and celebrations, elephants represent something completely different — cruelty, torture, and greed.
In temples, elephants give “blessings” to temple-goers who, in return, place money in the elephant’s trunk. In some Hindu festivals, hundreds of elephants are paraded through the streets.
The problem is, according to this National Geographic article, the elephants are “shackled, tortured, beaten, or starved on a daily basis”.
When we travelled through India, we got a chance to examine a few of these temple elephants up close.
Many rocked back and forth as we watched, a sign of stress in elephants. Their skin was peeling where heavy chains wrapped their necks and legs. In a couple of temples, we found the elephant enclosures, which were tiny spaces where the elephants spent most of their time when not serving tourists.
I have so many friends who excuse this treatment of elephants on the grounds that it is “tradition” or “religion”. But to me, no amount of tradition or religion should excuse cruelty — towards humans or animals.
Don’t visit zoos.
I know that zoos are a controversial subject!
Kids love zoos and parents visit zoos to teach their kids to love animals. But, by taking them to a zoo, you are also teaching them that it’s OK to take animals from their wild habitats and put them in captivity.
Especially for elephants, who have long memories and are extremely intelligent, zoos are cruel and unusual punishment, akin to you being ripped from your family and placed in a much smaller, less comfy home, with no communication with the outside world.
If you really want to teach your kids about animals, watch Planet Earth or one of the other stunning wildlife documentaries. Or take them to a farm sanctuary or animal sanctuary near you.
For World Elephant Day, help elephants by staying away from zoos who hold intelligent animals captive for human entertainment.
Visit a legitimate elephant sanctuary.
There are legitimate elephant sanctuaries around the world where retired or injured working elephants cared for after being rescued.
If you want to get close to elephants, please seek out a non-profit elephant sanctuary.
But beware! As more and more people are saying no to traditional elephant parks and rides, many money-grabbing businesses pretend to be sanctuaries in order to lure unsuspecting tourists.
Do your research! Don’t just rely on the reviews on Trip Advisor either — people are often blind to what’s really going on, especially if they’ve paid for a ticket. If you’re in doubt about a certain “sanctuary”, stay away.
Here the story of our awe-inspiring visit to Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai →
Use responsible tourism companies to experience elephants in the wild.
Lucky for all of us, there are lots of ways to view elephants in their natural habitats without causing (too much) harm!
Viewing elephants in the wild is a breathtaking experience. We got our first chance at seeing wild elephants when we visited Sri Lanka last year. Watching them swim, bathe, and graze in their natural family groups was so much better than being up close to captive elephants!
When you travel, seek out eco tourism operators and responsible national parks where you can see elephants in the wild. Make sure the companies are elephant-friendly, putting the welfare of elephants before their own profits.
By visiting elephants in their wild habitats, you can help the local economy, deter abuse and poaching, while still experiencing the beauty of elephants.
Again, if you’re not entirely sure whether a company is elephant friendly, stay away.
Avoid palm oil.
One of the greatest threats to elephants around the world is habitat loss.
Asian elephants are losing habitat daily because great swathes of jungle are being destroyed to create massive palm oil plantations.
Check the label on ALL packaged products you buy — palm oil is steadily creeping its way into items such as peanut butter, Nutella, shampoo, detergent, ice cream… palm oil is everywhere.
By avoiding palm oil, or at the very least, insisting on certified sustainable palm oil, we can help reduce the destruction of Asian jungles — saving habitat for elephants, orangutans, tigers, rhinos and thousands of smaller animals that live in the jungle.
Don’t buy ivory or ivory products.
This one should be obvious! Elephants are killed for their ivory. Don’t buy it.
To go one step further, you can support ivory bans in your home country. The more we legislate agains the ivory trade, the more we protect elephants.
If you’re in the US, one of the world’s largest markets for illegal ivory, find out about legislation in your state.
How to help elephants on World Elephant Day.
Aside from spending your money with responsible elephant-friendly companies when travelling, there are lots of ways to help elephants today.
Start by learning about the problems facing elephants and encouraging friends to avoid elephant rides and other elephant entertainment when travelling.
Of course, giving a little money to help elephants is a perfect way to celebrate World Elephant Day!
You can give directly to World Elephant Day or adopt an elephant from WWF. This makes a great gift! Or support 96 Elephants, which is dedicated to stopping the killing and elephant poaching in Africa.
Here’s a long list of other elephant charities you can support.
And finally, here are even more ways to help elephants on World Elephant Day and beyond.
Reasons to Love Elephants: 7 Fascinating Elephant Facts for World Elephant Day
- Elephants provide water for other animals. During dry season, elephants use their tusks to dig for water, helping smaller animals get access to water at the same time.
- Elephants give back to the ecosystem. Elephant dung is full of seeds from the grasses they eat. Every time they go, they sew the seeds of new life, helping to regenerate the environment.
- Elephants are all about girl power. Elephants live in matriarchal societies. The female leader makes decisions about where and when the elephants eat, when they join other large groups of elephants, and when to leave watering holes. Female relatives all participate in raising elephant calves – it takes a village!
- Elephants are gay-OK. Male elephants aren’t loners — they tend to live in groups. And within those groups, two males often pair off for years, engaging in affectionate and sexual behaviour. Female elephants also participate in same-sex encounters on a frequent basis.
- Elephants can’t jump. Imagine using those legs to get that immense weight off the ground!
- Elephants purr. Just like cats, they emanate a deep rumbling from their belly to communicate what we assume is happiness or satisfaction.
- Elephants eat a lot! They consume around 450 lbs / 200 kg of food a day, which is why elephants in captivity are half-starved.
♥ Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane
Hi, I’m Jane, founder and chief blogger on My Five Acres. I’ve lived in six countries and have camped, biked, trekked, kayaked, and explored in 50! At My Five Acres, our mission is to inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.