Elephants and TOURISM:

 It’s Time for a New Bucket List 


Taking an Elephant Ride or having a Temple Elephant “bless” you may seem exotic, but in reality it is just plain cruel.  

Stolen from their families, often confined without free access to food, water and rest, and forced  to undergo sustained and systematic abuse, trekking and temple elephants live painful, shortened lives and are just a suffering shell of what they used to be.  What elephants endure behind the scenes to submit to the demands of the Tourist Industry is something you’ll never, ever forget if forced to see it, and simply does not need to happen.

The true story of what happens before your innocent-seeming ride is hard to believe.  If you do need to see it to believe it, this is the common “training” method of breaking a baby elephant’s spirit.  Please note that this brief video contains very graphic content.

It’s up to each one of us to change what we ask for, to have a bucket list that is no longer based in cruelty, but one borne of compassion.  Spreading awareness, educating fellow travelers, and inspiring family and friends to take Compassionate Action for Elephants will create a better world–for the elephants in captivity, for their caregivers, and for those still living in the wild.


Join the campaign, share your message, be a voice for elephants!

It’s high-season now for elephants used in tourism, and time to tell travelers that elephant cruelty disguised as entertainment needs to be taken off the Bucket List! Reach out your hand in compassion by sharing the international campaign of #NotOnMyBucketList, and help spread awareness and positive change around the world! It’s quick, it’s easy, and we need your voice! 

  1. Write the hashtag  #NotOnMyBucketList on your hand or a paper hand
  2. Take a picture of your Hand of Compassion
  3. Share your “hashtag hand” on social media, adding this message:  “Elephant Cruelty is #NotOnMyBucketList!  Please join me in reaching out your hand in Compassion for Elephants!”

nombl-collageWe’ll re-post your share to our Instagram account, spreading the word twice as far!  Make sure your IG account is public so we can see your post, and if you tag your location we’ll feed it in to the map below. Thank you for reaching out your hand to create a kinder world for elephants!

Hands Reaching Out Around the World!

After you share your #NotOnMyBucketList post on social media (made public and location tagged!), we’ll add your hand to the map, uniting your hometown with people around the world who are all sharing the same message of kindness for elephants.  Although just a smattering of hands are on the map, so far you have shared the word thousands of times over your networks–thank you!

Humane Tourism Education

In mid-January 2017 I was spreading our Humane Tourism campaign for travelers and our Elephant Love Project for children throughout Cambodia.  One afternoon I was working in a small Khmer cafe in the southern part of the country when a broken and battered elephant pulls up, a wave of emotions overtaking me in no time flat.  I followed the elephant and mahout throughout the town, educating and engaging the tourists and locals alike the best I could to the reality of what they were seeing.  It was shaky ground to communicate in a foreign language to locals and especially encouraging the tourists to look past the exoticism of what they were seeing and peer in to the probable lives of both the elephant in captivity and the rider in poverty.

It’s easy to be paralyzed in depression when you see yet another animal’s wounds, to throw harsh words upon locals when you observe them pass their babies under the elephant’s belly in their belief in its’ blessing, and to explode in outrage when you witness tourists paying to take a selfie without seeing what damage their actions perpetuate .

And yet it is consistent education for tourists and locals alike, along with generating sustainable options for the elephants already in captivity, that can break the cruel cycle trapping elephants in tourism and temples. 

The work takes far more patience than what comes naturally. Habits and hearts are slow to change, true sanctuaries take time to build, and reforesting elephant habitat or helping elevate rural elephant “owners” up from poverty is usually not what people want to do when they say they want to volunteer to help elephants.

We work for immediate reduction in suffering, but also for the longterm systemic changes require openminded dialogues with locals, travelers, the wealthy, the poor. It’s easy to spew venom or simply turn away when what lies in front of us seems impossible to change, but with every passing week working across SE Asia, we’re witnessing the power of possibility as people learn the truth, change their minds, and work together for a future that exchanges a past filled with conflict for a future embracing coexistence.


More Ways You Can Take Compassionate Action for Elephants!

*Share #NotOnMyBucketList across all of your social media channels today.  Your voice can inspire so many others to take action — please share more than once, for there is power in numbers and change will come with repetition!

* When choosing a sanctuary to visit, employ your Elephant Empathy–what might that rescued elephant want? Would the elephant want to always have to be exactly where visitors want him to be for that photo op? If you love elephants, could you love the elephant more than the experience you want to have with the elephant, supporting sanctuaries that allow elephants the space, physically and emotionally, to simply be with other elephants?

*If you find yourself in a group that is visiting a camp where elephant rides are offered, let the owner know you wish to walk with the group instead of ride.  Communicate that you want to support places in transition that will help captive elephants live in a more natural environment where their needs are put over the needs of tourists.

*If you go on safari or are viewing elephants in the wild, resist the urge to feed them or attempt to draw them closer to you.  Let the driver or guide know you do not want to disturb the animals in an attempt to take photographs.

*If you are visiting a temple that has chained elephants, don’t tip the mahout for any interactions with the elephant.  Speak with the head monk about the lack of compassion shown in keeping a chained animal.  Write letters or emails to the temple, tourist authority, newspaper, embassy, and university in any city where you witness elephants chained in temples.

*Consider volunteering with organizations that help rebuild elephant habitat.  To keep elephants out of captivity and in the wild, or to prepare for a day when some captive elephants might be returned to the wild, there needs to be a “wild” for them to return to!  Rehabilitating their forests and jungles is a necessary step to enable the elephants we love to ever go home.     

Several years ago when Heart of Ganesh first worked in Humane Tourism, an article from HG’s hometown told of our steps into advocacy and education.  Although a bit dated and we’ve greatly expanded our programming since then, the message still rings true:  Bits ‘n’ Pieces: Sounding the trumpet for the elephants.