If riding an elephant was on your bucket list, here's why you might change your mind.
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Intrepid Travel

If you traveled to Thailand, Vietnam, or India five years ago, chances are you were offered an elephant ride.

For many travelers, the opportunity to perch atop an eight-foot, 6,000-pound animal while slowly lumbering through a lush rainforest was at the very top of a bucket list.

It’s a different story if you’re looking for an elephant ride in 2016. Many tour companies, led by Intrepid Travel, are banning the popular activity from their tours.


But why?

Well, to understand that, you first might want to understand a few things about elephants and what making them "ridable" entails.

Studies have indicated that like us, elephants are empathetic creatures — they help each other in distress, grieve for their dead, and feel emotions.

A 2013 study conducted on Asian elephants found that they comforted each other both physically and verbally in times of distress, making small noises while simultaneously stroking each other with their trunks in a show of empathy that's similar to chimpanzees.

Thailand elephant sanctuary. All images via Intrepid Travel.

African elephants will also scatter the bones of their dead. And some scientists even think that elephants cry real tears. While scientists aren't 100% certain, there is research that suggests that elephant tears are associated with grief and loss.

There are even case studies that show elephants performing acts of altruism and heroism for other elephants. In a famous study in 2006, researchers observed elephants' behavior toward a dying matriarch (who they dubbed Eleanor) and found that one elephant tried to rescue the dying elephant. When Eleanor did die, elephant families from miles around came to pay their respects.

Because elephants are such intelligent and emotional animals, it can be easy to believe they enjoy performing for and interacting with humans, like many domestic animals do. But that's not the case.

Elephants are wild animals, not domestic ones like dogs and cats. They're complex social animals that have to endure severe trauma to be ridden.

Baby elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

In order to get them to carry people on their backs, paint pictures, or play with soccer balls, young elephants need to be broken, a process that's often referred to as "the crush" in places like Thailand.

A centuries-old practice that's been handed down throughout generations, "the crush" or "phajaan" as it's called in Thai literally means the process of breaking a young elephant's spirit. When the elephants are young, they're stripped from their mothers, tightly bound, beaten with long sharp spikes, and cruelly deprived of food and water.

If all of this sounds terrible, know that there's some good news. The tide is finally turning on elephant rides.

Tourism companies across the board are making the ethical choice to not put elephant rides on the menu. More than 100 travel agencies, led by Intrepid Travel, have pledged to remove elephant rides, including shows with elephants, from their itineraries.

Thailand Elephant Sanctuary.

PETA has been pretty vocal about the treatment of elephants and started reaching out to travel companies about it in the last few years. After PETA initially reached out to Intrepid Travel, the travel company wanted to know more. So, they lent support to the research of captive elephant venues conducted by World Animal Protection.

It turns out that the demand for elephant rides had also caused a dramatic increase in elephant poaching — specifically in places like Southeast Asia where elephants were already endangered. And, the research found that only 3% of elephant tourism offerings in Southeast Asia treated elephants humanely.

Because of this, Intrepid Travel decided to change their rules and also teach fellow travelers to be mindful of attractions, like elephant rides, that actively exploit animals. They also run a not-for-profit, The Intrepid Foundation, that lets tourists contribute to the company's efforts to help improve animal welfare, stop human trafficking, and eradicate poverty — all while exploring the world.

There are many ways to appreciate the beauty and majesty of elephants in a humane setting.

Thailand Elephant Sanctuary.

If you still want to make sure you can catch a glimpse of your favorite tusked friends, there are a host of other organizations that rescue and rehabilitate elephants. Instead of riding an elephant, try visiting Thailand's Elephant Nature Park or donating to the friends of the Asian Elephant hospital — the first hospital to provide an elephant with a prosthetic leg.

Greenwashing (making something look sustainable and ethical when it really isn't) can be common when tourists and elephants are involved, so if you're unsure about an activity, it can be helpful to check watchdog organizations (like PETA or Traffic) that are closely monitoring animal tourism.

When companies pave the way for ethical travel by making sure that all animals are loved and respected along the way, everybody wins.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less