Petition update

A Letter On An Elephant's Spine

Eiren Doherty

Sep 13, 2018 — 

Hi Everyone, thank you so much for getting the petition to over 24,000 signatures. 

I recently contacted a veterinarian at University of British Columbia to inquire about the damage on an elephant's spine due to rides. She referred me to a campaign leader for Elephantics  ( , a global organization dedicated to elephant welfare. This is her response (I am keeping her anonymous for privacy)

I believe this proves that even using a pad rather than a howdah (chair or bench) can still cause damage to the upward curved and pointed elephant spine. 


Dear Eiren,

Thanks for your email regarding how riding would damage an elephant's spine. As Rene said, the extent of the physical damage depends on how the riding is carried out. For example, elephant's necks are very strong because they have to hold their heavy skulls and trunks aloft. We do not encourage riding of any kind, but if one person only is sitting on the elephant's neck only, the physical damage to elephants is minimal.

Riding on an elephant's back can cause spinal damage in two ways:

1. A horse's spine is curved downwards so a rider's weight is going in the same direction as the spine curvature. Conversely an elephant's spine is curved in the other direction - upwards. So the weight of the "howdah" or bench (up to 200kg) and say 3 people (up to 280kg) is nearly a half tonne of weight pushing an elephant's spine in the wrong direction, for 8 hour a day, 7 days a week. This can cause severe spinal damage.

2. The top of each elephant vertebrae is not rounded like ours, but pointy. Excessive weight and rubbing from the howdah and riders can cause skin lesions which often get infected because few elephants are given time off to heal. This exacerbates the wounds, causing further pain.

As Rene mentioned there are also many other reasons riding is physically and mentally harmful to elephants:


*this part of the letter is reference to captive elephants in Asia not Canada, however is still relevant to this petition*


1. Most captive elephants were captured from the wild as babies. This probably involved the killing of the baby's mother and aunties as they would try to protect the calf. The baby is then tied, beaten, starved and sleep-deprived until it is "broken" and obeys its captors.

2. Captive elephants usually receive insufficient food (in quantity and variety), little or no medical attention, too much or too little exercise, and harsh punishment from the "ankus" or bull hook.

3. They are usually chained when not working in such a way as to prevent them touching each other. This usually results in stereotypical behaviour such as repeated swaying, head bobbing and/or weaving. In addition, physical touch and bonding is very important to all elephants.

4. Normal social groupings are broken up causing severe mental stress.

Some helpful links that include diagrams are:

If you would like to recommend some awesome elephant experiences that don't include riding, please see our list at

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