• Dr. Eliott Reich


Dear Friends,

As many of you know I‘m currently on holidays in the north of Thailand.

Throughout my veterinary studies I‘ve had the opportunity to work with both wild and captive elephants in different parts of the world and I‘m a big fan of these amazing animals.

Knowing this, my wonderful girlfriend Danielle chose to surprise me with an elephant experience I‘ve never even thought possible.

See, the last time I‘ve been in Thailand (around 6 years ago), the only elephant encounters that existed where the ones where you ride on their back. Elephants are strong animals, but carrying two tourists, a metal bench and their handler („Mahout“) on their back (and neck) really puts a strain on their bodies. 

Often these animals have to work for many hours non-stop, usually for the majority of their lives. 

Over the years this causes them spinal injuries, nerve damage and arthritis.

Being wild animals, elephants don‘t naturally let humans ride on their backs. They have to undergo a process called Phajaan.  During Phajaan elephants are isolated from their herd, tied up in chains and deprived of food, water and sleep. This process can last multiple weeks and the elephants are regularly beaten during this period.

The whole procedure only stops once the animals‘s spirit has been broken and the handlers are sure that the elephant won‘t „act up“ against them.

The elephants we visited yesterday underwent Phajaan and were previously used as riding elephants for many years. On the photo you can clearly see the injuries that have been inflicted on the elephant‘s ear during years of torture.

We visited them in a sanctuary run by Elephant Nature Park, an organization that buys abused elephants and provides them with a life that is appropriate to their needs.

The elephants have a routine daily schedule that includes walks in their natural habitat, searching for food in the jungle, mud baths, social interactions with their herd members and more. Tourists can accompany these animals for a few hours a day, feed them and wash them - but not ride or abuse them in any other way.

I personally wish that all elephants could live „wild and free“ but unfortunately it‘s an unrealistic dream - here‘s why:

Asian elephants are an endangered species. There are currently between 4,000-6,000 living in Thailand, about half of which are in captivity.  There is not enough space for them to live freely in nature and not have dangerous interactions with humans. Those elephants that live in protected natural parks are often victims of poachers that will kill an animal just for their ivory tusks.

Even in a low-cost country like Thailand, providing for one elephant (food, medical expenses, handlers, etc.) exceed over $1000 per month.  This makes responsible eco-tourism the only viable source of income for these sanctuaries and enables them to rescue more elephants.

PLEASE, if you have the opportunity to experience elephants close up, please do your research and make sure that the animals are being treated properly.

Thank you!

P.S.: The elephants we visited have undergone Phajaan and can be regarded has semi-domesticated. However elephants get scared easily and their sheer size can make them extremely dangerous for us small humans. Never forget that when having an encouter with an elephant.

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