Pai Lin, a once-capable elephant capable of carrying six tourists simultaneously, was abandoned by her owner due to her loss of functionality caused by chronic spinal damage.
Elephants are renowned for their immense size and strength, but the practice of riding them on their backs can result in significant harm, as evidenced by a recent case. Wildlife Friends in Thailand (WFFT) shared an image of a 71-year-old female elephant named Pai Lin, who developed a spinal deformity after a quarter-century of service in the tourism industry, according to a report by CNN on March 10th. During her years of work, Pai Lin was occasionally burdened with carrying up to six tourists at once.
‘Pai Lin’s back still bears scars from old pressure points. Continued pressure on elephants’ bodies can damage their tissues and bones in their backs, leading to irreversible physical damage,’ stated WFFT.
Elephant riding remains a popular tourist activity in Southeast Asian countries, but animal advocates consider it a form of abuse due to the strain it places on the animals’ bodies. Additionally, elephants are often subjected to other forms of mistreatment such as long-distance travel and logging. Many elephants have even succumbed to exhaustion and malnutrition from overwork.
‘Pai Lin arrived at our sanctuary in 2006, after years of service in Thailand’s tourism industry. Her previous owner abandoned her because she became slow, constantly in pain, and could no longer work effectively,’ explained Edwin Wiek, director and founder of WFFT.
Elephant spines are not designed to support heavy loads, as per Tom Taylor, project manager at WFFT. ‘Their spines extend upwards. The constant pressure from tourists on the spine can lead to permanent physical damage. This is evident in Pai Lin,’ Taylor elaborated.
‘It’s important to understand that elephants are different from horses, which have been bred for riding. Elephants are not domesticated animals; they were captured from the wild and kept in captivity under poor conditions,’ added Wiek.
Pai Lin now resides among 24 other rescued elephants at WFFT’s sanctuary near the coastal town of Hua Hin, a 2.5-hour drive from Bangkok. Despite her spinal deformity, Pai Lin is still thriving and has even gained weight since her arrival. ‘She’s plumper than when she first joined us. You can clearly see the shape of her spine – it’s a deformity she will have to live with. But she is still doing well,’ Wiek remarked.