Saddle Off Model
The Saddle Off model is inspired by the work of Saengduean Lek Chailert, founder of Elephant Nature Park and Save Elephant Foundation and encourages elephant owners and small elephant tourism operators to strive towards ethical practices that improve the well-being of the elephants under their care. It endeavors to raise the standard of living conditions for captive Asian elephants by freeing them from the saddle and allowing them to live a more natural existence, while still providing economic sustainability for their owners through responsible tourism. The elephants at the Saddle Off projects we support are free from the burden of elephant riding and performing in shows, and are well fed with time to wander and forage in the jungle, and socialize with each other, thereby improving the quality of their lives enormously. At the projects the elephants are respected, and bullhooks traditionally used to coerce elephants, are forbidden.
Many visitors to Thailand and other parts of Asia are not aware that elephants don’t have very strong backs and are not anatomically suited to bearing heavy loads, particularly when placed in the middle of their backs, as with elephant riding. Two average sized people, in addition to a heavy metal seat, can easily weigh more than 150kg, which experts believe is in excess of what can be safely tolerated by elephants. Considering that elephants are often subjected to being ridden for eight or more hours a day, this activity is not only injurious to their delicate, upward pointing vertebrae and their skin, but is highly stressful.
Asian elephants, the largest land animal after African elephants, need to eat as much as 10% of their body weight throughout the day, including a variety of plants and require access to large amounts of clean drinking water. In the wild, they would normally forage for 12-18 hours a day. The antiquated practice of elephant riding is not only harmful to elephants both physically and mentally but doesn’t allow these colossal herbivores adequate time to consume sufficient amounts of food and water.
Be part of the solution, not the problem
The shift towards ethical elephant tourism has been welcomed by responsible travelers who are choosing to witness the splendor of happy, healthy elephants by walking with them, feeding them, and observing them doing what comes naturally instead of making them labor under their weight with an uncomfortable seat strapped to their bodies. The two experiences are very different – one leaves you with a good feeling your heart! The small Saddle Off projects we support have limited spaces each day to maintain a responsible human to elephant ratio. With real benefits to the elephants, together with a growing demand for ethical, sustainable, adventure tourism – this new approach is clearly the way forward.