When I was in India I took an elephant ride. It’s an attraction that is offered tourists in countries such as India, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The elephants were decoratively adorned with colorful weavings. I sat over the shoulders and rocked with the movement as the elephant walked up a hillside toward a temple. It was a thrill to be on the back of such a big, wonderful animal that was generously allowing me to ride on his back. I felt gratitude and friendship for the gentle giant.
I admit, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. It was just a few moments of one day on a 10-day tour. I took the ride, enjoyed it, and then moved on to the next thing on my itinerary. Then one day I met Stephanie Shaw, the corporate liaison for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and I realized what should have been obvious to me in the first place. Of course. Why did I ever think that an elephant would work a day job carrying humans around on his back constantly of his own free will, hour after hour, day after day?
When I learned the story behind the elephant rides, I felt ashamed of myself for being so insensitive to the animal. I was sorry for having participated in it, for helping to perpetuate the practice of selling elephant rides, which requires a kind of captivity and treatment I can hardly bear to imagine.
I assume others who take the rides are like I was. They saw the elephant ride attraction and went on it, not thinking that much about how it came to be that the world’s largest land animal would be submitting itself to serving as a taxi at a tourist attraction Read the rest of this entry »