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Should Elephants Carry Weight on Their Backs?

Elephants are known to be the largest land mammals in the world. While they may have massive bodies, did you know that they are not meant to carry heavy weights on their backs?

Elephants are not meant to carry weight on their backs because their spines have bony protrusions that make bearing weight damaging and painful. These majestic creatures were not meant for hard labor.

How Are Elephants Used in Society?

For over 4,000 years, people have tamed elephants to do work they were not built to do. This is in both the mental and physical aspects. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, there were 130,000 elephants in captivity. They were often used as tanks that would trample down enemies at 30km per hour.

In Sri Lanka and India, elephants were given special armor and weapons to battle each other. They even had steel balls tied to their trunks and were trained to swirl them around in defense. When they weren’t being used for battle, they were helping transport heavy materials for building. In fact, they still do this today.

We are more accustomed to seeing elephants being used as tourist attractions. If you’ve ever been to Thailand, elephant trekking is quite popular. Thousands of visitors flock to Southeast Asia to be able to scratch this off their bucket list. However, in 2014, the World Animal Protection Initiative explained how elephants are kept in cruel conditions. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Humane Society also disagrees using elephants as an attraction like such because of the abuse they go through during training. (Source: Science ABC)

Are Taming Methods Inhumane?

In Thai culture, elephants are tamed through a method cold phajaan. Another term for this method is elephant crushing. Wild elephants will not just allow you to ride on their back. They must be tamed entirely to do so.

The training phase starts at a young age. Young calves are separated from their moms and are kept in an enclosed space. They are then tortured with hooks and other tools to discipline them. They are also starved and sleep-deprived. This process is ruthless and horrific. It doesn’t end there. To manage them while trekking, the guide or Mahout will nudge them with a hook to keep them moving. (Source: Science ABC)

Are Elephants Incapable of Carrying Heavy Weights on Their Backs?

Anatomically speaking, elephants are not built to carry weight on its back. The combined mass of the Mahout, the carriage, and the passengers is too much for the elephant to bear. Carol Buckley specialized in trauma recovery and physical care of elephants in captivity. She says that modern elephants have evolved to carry more significant weight if suspended below their spine.

The spine of an elephant is not designed to carry large amounts of weight on its back. Additionally, elephants must be tamed for such practice, which can be inhumane.

Carol Buckley

Most mammals have rounded spinal disks. Elephants, on the other hand, have sharp protrusions. These bony protrusions are vulnerable to the weight applied. When people sit on an elephant, they put pressure on the elephant’s back which stabs their skin from the inside. The pain is said to be similar to needles piercing through the skin. (Source: Science ABC)

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