World Elephant Day: 7 Ways to Help Elephants When You Travel

How to avoid harming and start helping elephants when you travel!

world elephant day

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.

world elephant day

People naturally want to get close to elephants.

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 you know anyone who isn't in love with elephants? To celebrate the world's most amazing animals, we're sharing the best ways to help elephants when you travel.

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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.

elephant nature park

Elephants are not invincible and can be injured by giving people elephant rides.

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.

world elephant day

Temple elephants might look cheery but they are often subjected to cruelty, starvation, and brutal living conditions.

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.

2 weeks in thailand

Do your research and find legitimate elephant sanctuaries to visit.

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!

world elephant day

It was amazing to watch these elephants graze freely in a national park in Sri Lanka.

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.

elephants palm oil

Leaving Kuala Lumpur, it’s palm oil plantations as far as the eye can see.

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!
elephant nature park

Baby elephant surrounded by love and protection at Elephant Nature Park.

  • 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


  1. Comment by Peter Korchnak

    Peter Korchnak August 15, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing these tips. I now consider myself more educated on the topic. I hate ZOOs, but I had no idea about palm oil, for example. I visited a sanctuary in Malaysia, about an hour from KL, I forget the name; our host/friend told us it was legit, but they still offered elephant rides in a nearby river. Which was confusing, but again, our host/friend insisted it’s one of the best elephant protection places around…

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 16, 2017 at 9:57 pm

      Hi Peter,
      I’m glad I could provide the extra information. We were just in KL and thinking of visiting the sanctuary there. I think the main problem with these places is that they rely on tourism to fund their efforts, so even the most well-meaning ones have to give tourists the chance to get up close to the elephants. It’s such a complicated issue but it’s great that people are starting to think about it more and more!


  2. Comment by Jen Joslin

    Jen Joslin August 15, 2017 at 8:46 am

    Thank you for sharing about World Elephant Day and writing this to help to educate travelers about the effects of elephant tourism. I had no idea palm oil was destroying elephant habitats! I’ve seen and even participated in elephant tourism in the past, but didn’t realize what I was actually supporting by doing so. There are respectful ways to appreciate elephants, and circuses, riding and zoos do not have the elephants’ best interests at heart.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 15, 2017 at 5:11 pm

      Thanks Jen. I think the word is really starting to spread about the plight of elephants and about the palm oil industry. You can look for the “sustainable” palm oil label, but honestly, it’s just easier to avoid it altogether!


  3. Comment by divyakshi

    divyakshi August 15, 2017 at 4:56 am

    Stephen and Jane, as an elephant lover, I cherish this article. So so well articulated. The cruelty inflicted on any animal is never justified and I have a soft corner for these absolute darlings. I agree on all the points you have listed. Elephant rides are a strict no no and zoos are terrible! I hate the mahouts who starve these on Indian streets, as a kid I wanted to buy one from them and set it in the forests!
    I never knew about Palm Oil! :O thanks so much for that!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 15, 2017 at 5:08 pm

      Hi Divyakshi,
      Thanks for the comment. These animal abuses make us very angry, too! I’m not a fan of anyone who uses animals for personal profit, but I do also try to have sympathy with people who may not have a lot of options in terms of how to make a living.


  4. Comment by Paige W

    Paige W August 14, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    Beautifully written post. Thanks for the education for many. Asian elephants are my favorite animals and I’m really excited to visit that Chiang Mai Sanctuary in just a few weeks! Thanks for sharing!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 15, 2017 at 12:08 am

      Ah so exciting. It’s such a wonderful place to visit. Enjoy the elephants!


  5. Comment by sherianne

    sherianne August 14, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Great educational information. I had know idea elephants purr, I love that!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 14, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      I know, right. Makes me want to roll one over and rub its belly :)


  6. Comment by Megan Jerrard

    Megan Jerrard August 13, 2017 at 5:33 am

    I’m so glad to see such a movement behind spreading awareness of responsible elephant encounters. I think the message is really starting to have effect. And a wonderfully timed post in time for World Elephant Day! I truly believe the reason irresponsible tourism thrives is because of ignorance, so spreading the message is a powerful thing to do :)

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 14, 2017 at 1:06 am

      Hey Megan,
      I totally agree! Most people would not support these companies if they knew what the reality is – most people are not evil, just sometimes ill-informed. If we all keep talking about it, I think we can make a difference.


  7. Comment by Karla

    Karla August 13, 2017 at 5:01 am

    THank you for spreading awareness about this very magnificent creature. I love elephants but it is sad how they are treated in other countries.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 14, 2017 at 1:07 am

      Hi Karla,
      It’s sad but the great thing is, there are lots of people working towards helping elephants and we can all participate!


  8. Comment by Suvarna

    Suvarna August 12, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    I find elephants to be so magnificent and get so angry when I see them being used by humans instead of being allowed to be free to do what they are born to do.
    Happy world elephants day!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 12, 2017 at 8:54 pm

      Thanks for your comment! Happy World Elephant Day to you too!


  9. Comment by Red Nomad OZ (Marion Halliday)

    Red Nomad OZ (Marion Halliday) August 12, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    I find it shameful that so much of what is negative about tourism, especially in developing countries, is created by western demand and a colonial mentality. It’s also sad – and a real dilemma – that some of the people who supply this demand would starve if their livelihood were taken away. Giving sustainable options, as you have done here, will hopefully strike a balance. And I love that elephants are gay :D

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 12, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      Hi Marion,
      Thanks so much for commenting!

      The colonial mentality is one that really disturbs me, especially since I can see myself benefitting from it when I travel – Westerners often get better service, preferential treatment, are safer etc! The flipside, of course, is that tourism brings much-needed money to certain locations, and provides work where there was none before.

      We just have to be aware of where and how we are spending our money and to treat locals like human beings, rather than our personal servants, as we travel.


  10. Comment by Diana

    Diana August 12, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    As much as I love your post because it’s spreading awareness about such an important topic, but it also made me really sad. I love animals, and absolutely hate it when any sort of animal is used for entertainment especially animals like elephants that have a long memory. I wish there was a way to control these temples/circuses/or any place that used elephants in a improper way. I stopped eating Nutella after I found out that they use palm oil, it’s a shame.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 12, 2017 at 7:13 pm

      Thanks Diana! Yes, it is a depressing topic and while I can ignore a lot of the depressing stuff going on in the world, I can’t turn my head away from abuse of wild animals. It’s just so clearly wrong and so clearly indefensible. If humans are truly superior, then we should know better!


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