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Let Science be our Guide for the Ride

Opinion: By Hollis Burbank-Hammarlund

Member, Elephant Care International Support Team

Director, Work for Wild Life International

I am a believer in science to help me navigate and make sense of the world. It's vital to my work as an elephant health and welfare specialist at Work for Wild Life International.

I work closely with Asian elephant veterinarians, researchers, physiologists, biologists, behaviorists and those who provide hands-on care to elephants living in captivity. I’ve learned so much from them over the years.

When it comes to the issue of riding elephants, it’s easy to get swept up into the emotional controversy expressed across social media platforms.

Tourist riding an elephant bareback in Thailand.

Horrific images and stories of elephant abuse and exploitation (which do sadly exist in far too many elephant camps) can hurt your soul and push you towards a rigid, black and white conclusion that all riding is bad.

But good science tells us otherwise.

(See link to article below).

In fact, science tells us that exercise and movement from responsible riding (coupled with responsible elephant care*) can be beneficial to captive elephants’ bodies and their minds.

In a perfect world, elephants would not live in captivity and their fate would not depend on tourism. But they do and it does.

As elephant care providers, stewards, advocates, and tourists, I believe we owe it to elephants to use good science to help us provide the best, most enriching lives to the elephants living under human care.

So while we continue to fight for improvements in elephant tourism and expose neglect and abuse, let's collectively evolve in our thinking and doing.

Hollis at Green Hill Valley in Myanmar, 2018.

Let's dismiss the notion of black and white rules for all elephants living in captivity. That kind of thinking does not serve them well.

Let science--together with the deep, abiding compassion that lives within us as elephant welfare advocates--be our guide.

Hollis Burbank-Hammarlund



*The Five Freedoms: Good Elephant Welfare

• Freedom from hunger and thirst

• Freedom from discomfort

• Freedom from pain, injury and disease

• Freedom to express normal behaviour

• Freedom from fear and distress

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