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Riding Elephants: Fun or Torture?

*An interview with Tim Beltman from Elephant Freedom Project in Sri Lanka*

Can you explain what happens when elephants are trained to act (give rides, paint etc.) in the tourism industry?

What most people don’t know is the suffering elephants endure whilst in training. The elephants undergo extensive training at a very young age before they obey a keeper (mahout) – before they unnamed1accept people riding them. The training of an elephant is a very painful ordeal for them, including sleep deprivation, starvation, dehydration, confinement and pain, a lot of pain. All so that the elephant can be used for human needs.
At the tourist riding places – often called sanctuaries and orphanages – elephants are not allowed to play, have to work 7 days a week, don’t have access to drinking water when they desire and when they aren’t working they are chained to a tree with no space to move.


What is the Elephant Freedom Project (EFP) all about?

Visit us and experience a special elephant encounter which is suitable for young and old, families, couples and single travelers. This is your chance to get a memorable impression of a day in the life of a lucky Sri Lankan captive elephant who is not being used for working nor riding.

We offer an exclusive experience. To keep a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere for the elephant(s) and the people, we limit the amount of visitors per day.

Almost all we do is centered around our adorable elephant Manika. She is nearly 40 years old and used to work in the wood logging industry. She has been doing this hard work for over 30 years before she came to the project.

When she first arrived at the project she was an angry and aggressive lady. Within two days at our project she visibly calmed down and since she is getting more and more relaxed by the day.

Our greatest wish is to give a better life to all of these wonderful animals. We are actively searching to get more elephants to live with us, however it is very difficult.

Can you tell us more about how to keep elephants in captivity happy?

Space to roam, a herd so they are not lonely, food, food, food, elephants eat almost the whole day – and as less human intervention as possible. Enrichment is usually not needed if they have enough space to roam around. This is unfortunately not always the case (zoos come to mind). Then enrichment is needed to prevent boredom. unnamed4

Obviously things like chaining or being forced to perform for humans doesn’t make any elephant happy. An elephant just wants to be an elephant.

How can we as tourists responsibly go on holidays that benefit elephants and not fake places?

This is not always easy as some places are very good in marketing themselves as a good place. Research is always needed. Fortunately, a lot of information can be found on internet: TripAdvisor is great to see reviews. If you can ride the elephant, don’t go. If the elephant is in any way used to entertain the tourists (including elephant showers or posing for pictures), don’t go. The elephants should be left alone as much as possible, the less human contact the better.