Heartbreaking Photo Reveals Elephant’s Deformed Back After Years of Carrying Tourists

A distressing image has shed light on the harsh reality faced by elephants used in the tourism industry.

The Wildlife Friends Foundation in Thailand (WFFT) has released a photo of Pai Lin, a 71-year-old female elephant whose spine has been severely deformed after years of carrying tourists on her back.

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

Pai Lin endured the weight of up to six people at a time, resulting in a visibly sunken and jagged spine. The continuous pressure from carrying heavy loads caused irreversible physical damage, leaving scars on her back.


For 25 years, Pai Lin was subjected to this grueling work in Thailand’s trekking industry. However, she has now found solace at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand’s sanctuary, which provides a safe haven for Asian elephants.

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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 an enormous weight

Campaign groups like WFFT have long fought against using elephants in the tourism industry, citing exploitation as a significant concern.

Elephants are used for trekking and endure full days of carrying handlers, groups of tourists, and heavy seats, leading to deteriorated tissues and bones on their backs.


Pai Lin’s case is a poignant example of the lasting effects of such practices. Rescued by WFFT in 2007, she has become a beloved figure in the sanctuary and is considered the grandmother to the 22 other elephants residing there.

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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 opt instead to support ethical and sustainable sanctuaries

The sanctuary spans 44 acres, offering ample space for elephants like Pai Lin to roam, play, and interact in a natural environment filled with trees and lakes.

Tom Taylor, the WFFT’s Project Director, emphasizes that while elephants are known for their strength and size, their spines are not naturally designed to bear heavy loads.


The constant pressure from tourists can result in permanent physical damage, as seen in the case of the gentle Pai Lin.

The Wildlife Friends Foundation highlights that most rescued elephants in their sanctuary have endured decades of abuse.

Although the trauma they have experienced in the past is unimaginable, they can now live the remainder of their lives peacefully.


This powerful image aims to discourage tourists from participating in exploitative trekking industries and encourages them to support ethical and sustainable elephant sanctuaries instead.

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