Heartbreaking Consequences: Elephant’s Deformed Back Exposes Dark Side of Tourist Rides in Thailand

In a distressing revelation, a female elephant’s suffering from years of carrying tourists on its back has come to light.

The Wildlife Friends Foundation in Thailand (WFFT) has shared a poignant image of Pai Lin, a 71-year-old female elephant whose spine has been severely deformed due to decades of bearing the weight of tourists.

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In the rather harrowing picture, the Pai Lin’s back visibly caves inwards following decades carrying tourists

Pai Lin’s life story is one of agony, having spent 25 years in Thailand’s trekking industry, often carrying up to six people at once. The picture of her back paints a grim picture – her spine is visibly distorted and underwater, a result of the continuous strain from carrying immense loads.


Rescued by WFFT in 2007 from the trekking industry, Pai Lin now resides in the sanctuary, considered the matriarch among the 22 other elephants living there. The WFFT’s enclosures provide a sprawling 44-acre home with lush trees and lakes for the elephants to enjoy.

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Where the back should round to form an almost dome shape (pictured), Pai Lin’s spine jags in and is sunken after decades of carrying enormous weight

Tourist elephant rides have been a lucrative trade in countries like Thailand, drawing attention from travelers. However, groups like WFFT have persistently campaigned against using elephants for such activities, citing the physical toll it takes on these majestic creatures.

The WFFT emphasized that elephants are not built to bear heavy loads on their backs. The pressure exerted by carrying tourists, their handlers, and their seats can lead to lasting damage, causing irreversible harm to their spines.

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The group said they hoped this stark image would encourage tourists not to take part in exploitative trekking industries and to instead opt to support ethical and sustainable sanctuaries

Even Pai Lin’s back bears scars from previous pressure points.

Tom Taylor, the WFFT’s Project Director, highlighted that while elephants are known for their strength, their spines aren’t naturally designed to support weight. The profound physical harm endured by Pai Lin is a stark testament to the consequences of such practices.

The WFFT hopes that the poignant image of Pai Lin’s deformed back will serve as a wake-up call to tourists, urging them to reject exploitative trekking industries.


Instead, the foundation advocates for supporting ethical and sustainable elephant sanctuaries that prioritize the well-being of these incredible creatures.

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