Good old Facebook ‘on this day’ brought up this picture. I was surprised to see it as I actually thought I had deleted it. Nevertheless it encouraged a reflection and I’m overdue a blog post.
When I look at this picture, I am not the great animal lover & empath I am today. I am a self-absorbed, naive and incredibly innocent 23 year old. I was teaching English language in Thailand and the Elephant ride was supposed to be the highlight of my trip; I had no idea the suffering those animals were put through for my entertainment & Facebook likes!
I remember feeling that something wasn’t right when I was on the back of her; such a beautiful, majestic animal yet there was nothing majestic about the experience, it felt invasive & wrong. I remember looking at the long stick with the small dagger on the end and the small holes in the Elephants ears, I remember pushing aside the thought that the two correlated. I guess I had such a sheltered upbringing that I never thought that humans could be capable of such cruelty. I didn’t allow myself to even think it and I shared my pictures on social media boasting of the experience (how shameful).
My friends went on a second Elephant ride, I turned it down. Whilst I was stood waiting for them, one of the Elephants retaliated, he got angry, he whaled and stomped into the shelter huts. There were many other Elephants around him but they weren’t as brave, or they were too broken to notice the opportunity for freedom. This was their chance I thought, they are so much bigger and stronger than us scrawny humans buzzing beneath them.. or on top of them. All they had to do was shake them off or stamp their feet a few times but the others didn’t; the humans who tamed them made sure they were so broken, so terrified to ever stand their ground, to ever know their worth or capability. Whatever they did to them, they did good and proper!
It wasn’t long before this lone warrior was tackled down and hurried away. I can’t imagine the punishment he endured.
When my friend returned from her second Elephant ride, I told her about the brave Elephant and my fears that the Elephants were being harmed, she casually replied “of course they are, we would never be able to get near them otherwise”. She was so self-assured in her response that I felt silly for sharing my concern for the Elephants. I pushed this to the back of my mind for a long time, I wasn’t ready to face the cruelty of humankind; my kind.
My partner & I enjoyed a holiday to Rhodes 4 years after this experience in 2018. I was saddened to see many tourists enjoying a hike on a Donkeys back. I reflected on my Elephant ride & suspected that most of the humans participating in the Donkey ride were not much different from my 23 year old self (naive, clueless, self-absorbed) and ultimately appreciate and ‘love’ animals and therefore want the experience of being as physically close to the animal as they can be. I hoped that they would be as utterly horrified as I was to learn that they were supporting the inflicting pain & maltreatment of these animals.
I stroked one of the Donkey’s for a few moments (just before her human saw me and sent me away when I refused him money). I could feel her exhaustion and I think she felt my kindness, she bowed her head into me & closed her eyes. I suspect she was rarely shown human compassion.
I don’t believe humankind is intentionally cruel, I think we are broken and consumed by ego and materialism. The earth provides everything we need but we believe we need more and unfortunately this encourages the abuse and exploitation of all other living beings.
Animals are not here to fulfil human needs, we just can’t seem to grasp that. People discard of a pet because it doesn’t look the way they want, doesn’t give them the love they crave or behave the way they want it to. Animals are gagged, not physically but in every other sense of the word. They are not allowed a personality or freedom to express themselves; they must do as humans expect them to do. Whether an animal has a happy or miserable life is entirely in human hands, we choose the life path of our animals. I think it is such an incredible thing to give an animal a loving home.