Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The practice, which involves an elephant lightly stepping on someone's back, is increasingly common, though activists are saying the animals are abused during the training process.

December 07, 2015

When planning a trip to a destination spa, it’s probably safe to say that having a three-ton elephant step on your back isn’t top-of-mind. However, for visitors to Thailand, where an elephant camp in Chiang Mai is offering massages to those looking for an adrenaline rush, that’s not the case. The practice, which often involves a trainer guiding the elephant to use its trunk and feet to press on a customers back, has often been promoted as a fun vacation activity. Pictures and videos have been circulating the web for years, and activists have had enough.

According to the World Animal Protection, an organization that works to alleviate animal abuse around the world, elephants used for this type of entertainment often undergo cruel training. A report from the organization describes the process of “breaking in” an elephant as typically involving “tightly restraining them with ropes or chains” and inflicting severe pain “with bullhooks, wooden battens, and whips.” The animals are also typically taken away from their mothers at very young ages and isolated. According to the World Animal Protection, this causes psychological damage for wild elephants who “consistently display affection and friendship by social rubbing together and coordinating their movements.”

“Most tourists don’t realize these seemingly ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ encounters mean a lifetime of misery for wild animals,” says Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Oceans and Wildlife Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection. “For everyone who loves elephants and other wild animals, our advice is simple: see them in the wild.”

We’ll stick with hot stones and a body scrub.

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