The sad truth behind your elephant ride….
Elephants are very intelligent animals, and are definitely capable of being trained. Unfortunately, the “training” that happens in Thailand (and many other places in Asia) has nothing to do with positive reinforcement and everything to do with torture and fear.
At a very young age, elephants are captured in the wild and put through a phajaanceremony. It’s very misleading to call this a “ceremony,” however, because it’s more like torture. The Phajaan is also often known as “the crush” because it involves tying the young elephants up in a very small cage so that they can’t move — crushing their bodies. Then they are beaten, poked, sleep-deprived, and starved for up to a week — crushing their spirits. (You can see videos of this, though they are very disturbing to watch.)
Many of them die.
Those that survive the phajaan emerge broken in every sense of the word — and now fear humans enough to listen to any command they are given.
These elephants go on to be the ones you see in circuses, or painting those pictures, or in those trekking camps in the jungle. In these “jobs,” the elephants are often chained up, prodded with bullhooks, and sometimes even shot with slingshots. Other “trained” elephants go into the illegal logging trade, which is perhaps the worst fate for an elephant; many die young from broken backs and other injuries.