Elephant that carried tourists for 25 years has caved-in spine
Elephants – the world’s largest land mammals – are known for their strength. As working animals, they haul heavy loads and also provide elephant rides.
One elephant is suffering permanent damage to its back, following years of carrying tourists.
The 71-year-old female named Pai Lin has a caved-in spine after being made to carry up to six tourists at a time for 25 years, according to Ms Amy Jones, a spokesman for Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT).
In a recent Newsweek article, Ms Jones said: “Pai Lin had a long, hard life.
“She was used for elephant trekking, as a street begging prop, and in the logging industry for many years. She was forced to carry a heavy howdah – a type of seat – with up to six tourists in it. Because of this, her spine is visibly deformed, and she has many scars caused by pressure sores.”
Ms Jones said that Pai Lin, rescued by WFFT in 2007, arrived at the Thailand-based foundation terrified, dehydrated, underweight and suffering from a respiratory infection, which resulted in nasal and eye discharge.
Photos provided by the WFFT show Pai Lin’s back sunken, unlike a healthy elephant’s typical dome-shaped spine.
Elephant rides are common at tourist hotspots across Southeast Asia, and the hashtag #elephantride has racked up over eight million views on TikTok.
Elephants in this industry often spend full days with no break, carrying the weight of their handler, tourists and the weight of the howdah seat, said Newsweek.
Their bones and tissues deteriorate due to the constant pressure on their bodies, and their spines suffer irreversible damage.
WFFT project director Tom Taylor said: “While elephants may be known for their strength and size, their backs are not naturally designed to carry weight, as their spines extend upwards. Constant pressure on their backbones from tourists can result in permanent physical damage, which can be seen in our gentle Pai Lin”.
The Singapore Zoo stopped offering elephant rides in 2015, and in 2018, the elephants were no longer made to perform stunts like balancing on logs during twice-daily shows.
Instead, they are encouraged to display their natural behavior.
Pai Lin, along with 22 other rescued elephants, lives at the WFFT’s elephant sanctuary in the western Thai province of Phetchaburi where she is provided with 24-hour veterinary care, specialised supplements and nutrient-dense food.
While the elephant’s spinal deformity is irreversible, the damage will not worsen, said Ms Jones, as there is no longer any weight or pressure on its back.
She said: “For a very old lady, she is still very playful with a zest for life. Her fear has gone – although she is still afraid of elephants, cows, and various other animals – and she lives her life chain-free on her own terms. However, she (sometimes) has mood swings and can be very sassy.”