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Elephant in Thailand Suffers Permanent Damage to Spine After Spending 25 Years Carrying Tourists


Collage Elephant
Source: WFFT

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Elephant trekking, which takes guests on a tour through the jungle while riding an elephant is a common tourist attraction in Thailand. However, animal advocates have long called for a stop to this practice as it is cruel and hurts the elephants.

Although elephants are known to be big and strong, advocates say that carrying heavy loads like seats and people on their backs for extended periods of time can really harm elephants. But do you know the actual extent of this damage?

Side By Side

A side-by-side comparison of pai lin (left) and her deformed spine and thung ngern (right) with a typical dome-shaped spine


Recently, the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand (WFFT) released some photos of an elephant, called Pai Lin that they rescued and is now living at their sanctuary.

Pai Lin’s spine has been permanently and visibly deformed after spending 25 years in Thailand’s trekking industry, “where she was forced to give rides for up to 6 tourists at a time.”

Pai Lin Dipped Back

Pai lin’s dipped back.


From the photos, “you can see how Pai Lin’s spine, which should naturally be rounded and raised, is caved in and sunken from the heavy weight of her past work.”

How carrying tourists leave permanent damage

According to WFFT, the physical deformities seen on Pai Lin are common in elephants used for tourist rides as they “often spend full days carrying the weight of their mahout (handler), groups of tourists, and a heavy howdah (seat).”

Elephant Riding Howdah

A typical “howdah” – or seat – used for elephant rides


“This continuous pressure on their bodies can deteriorate the tissue and bones on their back, causing irreversible physical damage to their spines. Pai Lin’s back still bears scars from old pressure points.”

Tom Taylor, the Project Director at WFFT also added that “while elephants may be known for their strength and size, their backs are not naturally designed to carry weight, as their spines extend upwards”.

Boon Chuey Another Rescued Elephant At Wfft With Damaged Back

Boon chey, another rescue elephant at wfft who also has a damaged spine


“We’ve released these photos of our wonderful Pai Lin and her friends to help raise awareness of how these gentle giants can suffer as part of the riding industry.”

More than physical harm

As if suffering permanent damage to their spines isn’t enough, elephants that are used by humans to do work like carry heavy loads suffer emotionally, mentally and spiritually too.

Shutterstock 1108826132 1


Like all wild animals, elephants are not supposed to be domesticated. So, for them to be able to obey humans and do activities like carry tourists, “they have to go through a ritual known as Phajaan, which in Thai means ‘to crush their soul’.”

This ritual essentially separates young elephants from their mothers when they’re only a few months old. Then, the baby elephants are subjected to excessive training, which involves beating, sleep deprivation, starvation, and other horrible acts.


We hope that more people will become aware of the harm caused by the elephant trekking industry. No elephant deserves to suffer the way Pai Lin and the other rescue elephants have. 


WATCH: Pair of Elephants Spotted Breaking Into a House in Johor

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Source: WFFT
Source: WFFT
Source: WFFT
Source: A-Z Animals

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