I never knew elephants were bristly with wire brush hair covering their head and back. I knew they were wrinkly. That’s a thing one knows about elephants without ever touching one. Big, grey and wrinkly. But the bristly hair was a surprise as I mounted the giant creature, my thigh span barely large enough to straddle it. I reach for Xanthe and she is passed to me. I sit her in front of me and negotiate the holding on of the rope and the child at the same time, having to lean forward to do so. It’s an awfully long way to fall, and then there’s the trampling to consider.
Xanthe enjoyed seeing the elephants, as indicated with squeals of delight and panting and pointing. She enjoyed watching her dad and brother get on and ride off on one before us. But when it came to actually riding one, the squeals of delight were replaced with sobs of get me off. Now. I dont know if it was the height, the wobbling or her mother clinging on to her tightly with one hand while leaning forward to grab the rope, possibly squishing her into the brisitly elephant hair. We rode down to the river, holding on for dear life as the angle down the bank threatened to throw me over the head of the elephant and into the water. The elephant sprayed water in the air and over us. As enjoyable as it all was, I had had enough and Xanthe was over it.
I was happy with the length of time. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and ten minutes is ok. We had paid for a 30 minute ride, that being the shortest time available. It was only AUD$18 per elephant. Bargain. Hubs and Millar continued on while myself and Xanthe, now crying and trying to scramble up me as I still held on with one hand, headed back to safe ground. Xanthe, again on terra firma, was happy to watch the elephants do their thing as we waited for Millar and hubs to finish their ride.
When they returned we fed the elephants a bag of bananas each and stroked their trunks and said goodbye.
It was an absolute privilege to ride these huge beasts of awesomeness and I am thrilled that my children got to experience it also.
I cannot be completely sure that those elephants are treated well. I don’t know what a happy elephant looks like. I know these elephants were trained to do certain things on command for my enjoyment. I know they had chains on their neck. I know the keepers had long sticks with sharp ends, and I can say that they were just there on the very unlikely chance that one of the elephants got out of control… but that may be naive. We rode these elephants with a sheet of thick padding between us and the animal. I think that’s a kinder way to do it than those platforms other elephants are burdened with for people to ride upon. Maybe.
So I am torn between enjoying the experience, thinking it a once in a lifetime privilege and wondering if I contributed to the ongoing abuse and exploitation of these intelligent mammals.