Elephant + Selfie = Selephantie
A photo for scale (in feet):
I did do my research before going to hang out with elephants, because I know that not all places that specialize in tourist-y “come play with animals” stuff treat their animals nicely. The place I went to is an elephant rescue program, with most of the animals coming from Sumatra, and it has a reputation for treating it’s animals very well. (Steve Irwin reportedly said it was the best elephant park he’d ever been to.)
That being said…it was a little bit strange. The elephants that didn’t get along with the larger herd couldn’t be kept in the same open-air “stable” as the rest of the elephants, and were chained up in different areas.
It’s conflicting, because there isn’t much that people can do about herd dynamics in elephants, and sometimes the only option that keeps every animal safe is keeping the outliers away from the main group, but…it’s also really big animals, in a really small space (relatively). Added into that is the fact that these animals were all rescued, so even if their living conditions aren’t as good as could be hoped for if they were in the wild…it’s a pretty safe assumption that they’re incalculably better off at the sanctuary than they were before.
It takes a lot of money to care for elephants, so giving rides to tourists seems like a very reasonable option, and certainly better treatment than the elephants were receiving in their previous occupations. (Most of the elephants were rescued from logging work.)
In the end, I just decided that it was people trying to do the best they could with the resources they had, because everything I saw about the place felt touristy, yes, but also like it was done in good faith. The people who work there really do care for the animals they work with. Every elephant has a single dedicated caretaker they work with every single day.