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Cruelties of Elephant Safaris in Chitwan National Park – 6 Important Reasons Why You Shouldn’t!

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Please do not take an elephant safari in Chitwan National Park. 

I recently visited Chitwan National Park in Nepal and I absolutely loved seeing animals in the wild.

One-horned rhinos, deers, monkeys, crocodiles, all came out to play and some I could even see from my hotel room!

However, there was an element to Chitwan that I hated and that was the exploitation of the elephants.

These beautiful creatures seemed to just be used for profit. They were chained up, rode by four people at a time, three times a day, tamed with bullhooks, and generally looked distressed.

I didn’t see one wild elephant in Chitwan. All were ‘domesticated’.

That’s not to say there aren’t any but the only one I saw roaming without an owner was a retired government elephant who was free to do as she chose.

Here are the reasons why you should never take an elephant safari in Chitwan National Park.

elephant safari chitwan national park

Why you should never take an elephant safari in Chitwan National Park

1. From a baby, their spirit is taken to be trained to work with people

It’s no secret that elephants aren’t born to work with humans. The babies are taken from their mothers and ‘domesticated’.

The ‘crush’ or ‘break’ process involves keeping them in a hold, tied with ropes, and even starved and beaten to submit to the owners.

This part is important to the owners to ensure that tourists don’t get harmed and that they behave.

It’s quite cruel to think that an animal is raised knowing nothing else than a bullhook and being ridden for money.

When I was observing the elephant bathing and the safaris, all the owners had bullhooks.

I didn’t personally see them used, but I’m sure they are and wasn’t sure it was necessary.

I had also read reviews from one traveller where the elephant was being hooked and the owner dropped the hook on the floor.

The elephant picked it up with its trunk and passed it back. That’s utterly heartbreaking.

elephant safari chitwan national park

2. They are chained away from their families

Elephants are social creatures and the family ties, especially between a mother and her baby, are tight-knit.

When I was walking around the elephant breeding centre I squealed as I loved seeing the beautiful elephant babies.

But, once I saw they were chained and couldn’t reach their mothers too well, I felt really sad.

The breeding centre assured me that it’s to stop them running away and limit the risk of being poached, but, it’s still disturbing to see them this way.

The government is aware that chains are not the best solution and some places are trialling electric fences.

But male elephants looking to mate enter the pen and so the females flee and which causes more harm. It’s a double-edged sword, but still tough to watch.

elephant safari chitwan national park
Mothers and babies can reach each other from afar, but are chained apart :(
elephant safari chitwan national park

3. They work long hours and carry a heavyweight with four people at a time

The elephants used for the elephant safari in Chitwan National Park are made to carry four people at a time, for two hours, with a carriage on their backs, 3 times a day. Every day.

That’s tough work even for an elephant that looks strong on the surface.

It’s all about getting in as many tourists as possible to maximise profit. An article by Responsible Travel raises a good point in the fact that elephants are used to patrol the park and directly contribute to helping stop poachers who are killing other wild animals.

They have recognised it as a positive use of elephant riding by the guards for conservation.

Because of these elephant patrols, it had a direct effect on lessening the number of animals poached.

From 2004 to 2011, National Geographic reported that not a single animal was poached in Chitwan National Park. But, these elephant safaris are put on for tourists (not patrols) and the owners are failing to meet minimum standards.

These standards include limiting rides to two hours per day and reducing the amount of weight loaded on their backs.

elephant safari chitwan national park

4. They’re not fed well by the (private) owners

When I was talking to my guide at United Jungle Guide Service, I recalled the fact that in India I fed a little Ellie some sugar cane as it’s their favourite!

But, my guide told me that only government elephants get fed the nice treats in Sauraha.

The private ones don’t get fed as well as it’s all about saving money.

When I used to walk home to my hotel in the evenings, I used to see Chumpa and Laxmi who were elephants that went to work on the safaris each day. They were chained up and given hay and a roof over their head.

But, there wasn’t much food insight. When I went over to say hi, she’d put her trunk out. She was obviously hungry!

So, I decided to go to the village and feed her some bananas!

I asked my guide if it was okay to do this and he said ‘Yeah, the owners will appreciate it as it saves them having to’.

Now, I don’t have any solid facts here but what I heard and saw disturbed me.

elephant safari chitwan national park

5. Select tour guides and agencies in Chitwan have stopped offering elephant safaris due to the bad treatment even though they could make money

When I was asking around about tours on offer, United Jungle Guide Service was the only tour booking office in the town that had crossed out ‘elephant safari’ from their sign.

When I asked why they said they don’t like the way the animals are treated.

Now, that seriously hit me and was the turning point for me. They could make a serious profit but choose not to as the treatment of elephants is bad.

Incredible. I instantly booked up my tours as I was impressed.

Apparently, a lot of tour agencies don’t like the treatment and get it’s not good for the elephants, but cannot afford to stop offering the tours as they will lose money.

But, there are many alternative activities that will allow you to see the wildlife without contributing to the abuse.

Walking safaris, jeep safaris, and boat rides are all great options and you will still get the same experience.

walking safari chitwan national park

6. It’s not responsible tourism

When we travel, it’s always a good practice to ensure we’re responsible.

Dressing correctly in temples or for certain cultures, leaving only footprints and, lastly but most importantly, not supporting organisations that are not ethical.

By paying money for an elephant safari tour, you’re supporting the process. Of course, it’s completely your choice but it is good to keep it in mind and think beyond a few holiday snaps.

elephant safari chitwan national park

So, what’s my alternative to an elephant safari in Chitwan National Park?

As mentioned before you can go on a hair-raising trek or ‘walking safari’ in Chitwan National Park.

This, in my opinion, is the best way to experience wildlife here and causes the least distress to the animals.

A jeep safari is also a great and safer option which means you cover more ground in the park.

But, the noise and no limits on the number of jeeps allowed in means they may not come near you!

If you want to find out more see ‘what to expect on a walking safari in Chitwan National Park’.

walking safari chitwan national park
The walking safari was the highlight of my Chitwan National Park visit

Nepal Elephant Walk in Sauraha

Nepal Elephant Walk in Sauraha is a start-up that is trying to turn tourists away from riding the elephants and provide a tour where you can walk alongside them.

This option still gives you the chance to meet a beautiful Asian elephant but gives Ellie a well-needed break. The prices are reasonable at 2000 NPR ($20) and you can book in Acoustica bar in the Sauraha town.

I’m not sponsored by them and I didn’t go on the tour myself. This post also isn’t clickbait about setting up a sale for the company. But, I just saw the flyer, read the information, and spoke to some of the guys advertising it and thought it was a great idea.

This way, it will naturally bring tourists away from riding, gives the elephants rest, and provide profit for the owners. They all win. Check out their site for bookings here.

elephant safari chitwan national park

Please think twice before taking an elephant safari in Chitwan National Park

I’m not usually someone who speaks out about animal rights, (even though I should) but what I witnessed in Chitwan National Park really moved and upset me.

These beautiful creatures should be allowed to roam free in the park and not domesticated for safaris.

I understand poaching keeps them in danger and chains ‘help’ with this. But, surely more should be done.

Even limiting the number of rides per day or how long they are ridden for would be a big step.

If the government and Sauraha tourism aren’t willing to give it up, I would urge you not to support it when visiting.

And sure, you could say who am I to speak about such things and tell you what to do? Surely, I’m not educated enough on the issue to speak out.

But, the more that do, the more may be done.

Even though you’re only one person and one ticket in amongst hundreds of tourists that visit each day.

If everyone takes a stand, it may change these majestic elephants’ lives for the better.

Read my complete guide for Chitwan National Park next!

elephant safari chitwan national park

Heading to Nepal? Read more of my posts!

The ultimate Kathmandu Bucket List

What to expect at Pashupatinath Temple

A guide for Garden of Dreams in Kathmandu

Everest Flight from Kathmandu – is it safe?

How to get from Kathmandu to Pokhara

Pokhara travel guide

A complete guide for Lumbini

My top travel tips for visiting the Birthplace of Buddha

Travelling overland from Nepal to India


Wednesday 11th of May 2022

thank you so much for your information... i witnessed about 20 years ago the same thing... the elephant camp was exactly looking the same and during the night directly a few meters beside the stable the fire of the excrements exploded during the night ... i was absolutely shocked how they couldn't t move out of these smokey stinky place .... the short chains were exactly the same ... what can we do more !!! big hug ina

Sophie Pearce

Thursday 12th of May 2022

The treatment is barbaric, we can only hope the Government will crack down on it soon. We can only hope that in the meantime people choose not to ride :( Thanks Ina, Sophie x

Michael Bailey

Saturday 28th of March 2020

Stand Up 4 Elephants is an NGO working in Chitwan to improve the lives of the captive elephants. They offer a free tour of their facilities and a very detailed information session. I would recommend anyone traveling to Chitwan to get in touch with us.

Sophie Pearce

Saturday 28th of March 2020

Hi Michael, thank you for bringing this to light. I'll leave your comment here for people to get in touch. Sophie x

Bijay Shrestha

Monday 27th of January 2020

The activity is one that i too don't have interest on. I am from Nepal and has a thing about the activity in the Chitwan National Park. So whenever i want to roam the Jungle of Chitwan, I take the Jeep Safari or others to roam the Chitwan National Park. (( ))


Friday 1st of November 2019

I really appreciate you and everybody who is not taking elephant rides. They aren't meant to spent their life like this. As we all know elephant is the most intelligent, humble and gentle animal and we as humans are doing cruelty, please dont be a part of it. Elephants are always my fav. And I really support this post. And yes, do not take elephants rides not only here but around the world. These wonderful creatures have their own life and we literate people at least can understand this and can spread good message to our younger ones too. Beautiful post. Super like. ;)

Sophie Pearce

Sunday 3rd of November 2019

Hi Hemesh, thanks for your support. I agree that elephants rides shouldn't happen! The treatment is especially terrible in Chitwan and I hope it stops soon. Sophie x


Saturday 3rd of August 2019

Hi, I recently went to chitin national park as well and I was told there was only 3 wild elephants there. They also said many tigers had to go into zoos as one ate a human a few years back and they need clean them from wanting to eat humans. These elephants are very badly sunburned as they are not allowed to put the dust on their trunk. I also saw they did ox rides and this broke my heart as the wooden cart was placed on their necks and they were pulling 7 to 8 people. I understand that it brings in a lot of money to these poor areas but it still should not be happening

Sophie Pearce

Wednesday 7th of August 2019

Hi Erin, I totally agree, the treatment of animals in Chitwan National Park is barbaric and should stop. I'm sad to hear the lions have been put in a zoo, they are wild creatures and should be allowed to roam! I didn't realise the Oxes were also being used, that's also sad to hear. Hopefully, one day, the government will stop this. But, for now, we need to make a stand! Thanks for reading, Sophie x

Sophie Pearce

Wednesday 7th of August 2019

Hi Erin, I totally agree, the treatment of animals in Chitwan National Park is barbaric and should stop. I'm sad to hear the lions have been put in a zoo, they are wild creatures and should be allowed to roam! I didn't realise the Oxes were also being used, that's also sad to hear. Hopefully, one day, the government will stop this. But, for now, we need to make a stand! Thanks for reading, Sophie x