Where's My Elephant?!
March 13, 2011 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I want to ride on an elephant. What's the easiest way to make this happen?

I don't ask for much; I just want to go for a ride on the largest land-based animal on Earth. I know that there are places in this world that can facilitate this, but I'd like to do it with the least amount of trouble possible.

I live in Los Angeles. I understand that I'm probably going to need to travel out of town in order to complete this quest, but I'm not quite sure how far out of town. What's the nearest/easiest/cheapest venue for me to take a ride on a pachyderm?
posted by Parasite Unseen to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I know PETA was all up in arms about elephant rides at the Santa Ana Zoo (warning: music). I don't know if they were successful in getting them to stop, but since it's nearby it's probably worth giving them a call.
posted by phunniemee at 2:34 PM on March 13, 2011

Are there local zoos or amusement parks that let you do this? I grew up in Tampa, hometown of Busch Gardens, and they had an elephant that people could ride. Her name was Peggy. Ahhh, memories.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:35 PM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have been to this circus in St. Paul, MN as recently as a couple of years ago and am pretty sure they offered elephant rides. Other Shrine circuses may do this too, I don't know.
posted by lakeroon at 2:37 PM on March 13, 2011

I know I've seen elephant rides at the San Diego County Fair in the last few years. I just checked the LA County fair website and it mentions elephant rides here: http://www.lacountyfair.com/2011/entertainment/Esmeraldastravelingcircus.asp
posted by wsquared at 2:37 PM on March 13, 2011

I rode an elephant at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park (now named the Safari Park), but that was about 15-20 years ago and there's nothing on their website about it now. You could call them, though.
posted by shiny blue object at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2011

shiny blue object: As a San Diego resident, I've never seen/heard of elephant rides there, so I don't think that's a current thing. Then again, I didn't know they'd changed the name either, so I might not be the most up-to-date resource. :)
posted by Condroidulations! at 2:51 PM on March 13, 2011

Any local renaissance festivals? I've seen elephant and camel rides at many. Usually around twenty bucks to get in, then $3-$5 for a ride.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:53 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also rode an elephant at the San Diego Zoo, but likewise, over 20 years ago.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:55 PM on March 13, 2011

Not West Coast, but echoing the above -- seen rides offered at both zoos and fairs. For zoos, you might have better success at smaller ones.
posted by neilbert at 3:10 PM on March 13, 2011

Ringling Brothers Museum, Baraboo WI
posted by timsteil at 3:11 PM on March 13, 2011

The Six Flags Discovery Kingdom amusement park in Vallejo (NorCal) has elephant rides. It gets no endorsement from me though, it's the most depressing place ever as the elephants live and work under these giant thunderingly noisy roller coasters. That's not an appropriate environment for animals so attuned to subsonic sound and vibration.
posted by jamaro at 3:19 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

(borked the link, it should go here.)
posted by jamaro at 3:25 PM on March 13, 2011

If you want to ride elephants, I suggest Thailand.

That's where I did it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:43 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it was the San Diego Wildlife Park or whichever one it is that allows the animals free roam of enormous habitats, that I rode an elephant at as well, but it was around 10 years ago. It might not be available anymore. Just to let you know it's not that exciting, and my elephant decided to show its disdain by stopping for like 20 minutes to empty like 10 gallons of piss from its bladder.
posted by Peregrin5 at 3:57 PM on March 13, 2011

I don't know how elephant training works in Northern Thailand, but when I was there when I was 20, I rode on some Karin work elephants that went away in the evenings to forage and sleep or whatnot, and who came back in the mornings for work. I'm guessing that their circumstances must be at least a little better than many/most/all circus elephants, but again, I don't know how they are trained. All I know is that their trainer has to commit to stay with them for life because they won't accept new trainers.
posted by aniola at 4:47 PM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

[folks, OP is not anon, non answers can go to MeMail, thanks. ]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:33 PM on March 13, 2011

Just for the record, the largest animal on land is the African elephant. No one rides those. People ride the Indian elephant, which is smaller, has smaller ears, and isn't nearly as dangerous.

It's still pretty big though.
posted by musofire at 7:27 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I rode on an elephant when I was a kid ... it was eiher at the San Diego Zoo (now renamed, I gather), the San Diego Wild Animal Park, or Marine-World-Africa-USA (in Vallejo, and probably rebranded as well).
posted by ambulatorybird at 7:49 PM on March 13, 2011

African Lion Safari, just outside of 'Toronto, has elephant rides (as of last summer). It seems to be far from the worst, and may be one of the best places for an elephant to live if they have the gross misfortune to be stuck here in the GTA, or in Canada at all. Be that as it may, it's an additional $5 or so on top of park admission (about $90, for a family of three, at last summer's rates).

And, since I indulged in one a few years ago (with my kid, as it was one of her greatest wishes at the time) I'll say that it's hardly enjoyable, even once I got past my guilt. It's not soft and cushy - though there's the blanket and a frame, there's no padding and they're bony up top where you sit and it hurts your bum. And, with each step, you tend to tilt and roll around a bit up there. Even though the keepers were kind to the animals as far as we could see, and our daughter was thankful, in the end it was a valuable lesson for us in that's not really all that fun for either party, at the end of the day. The last two trips, we didn't go to the elephant performance or have rides - we like the part where they get to take a long walk and watch them swim in the little lake best. They seem happier then. And their poop floats!
posted by peagood at 8:00 PM on March 13, 2011

In order to respond to a MeMail which said that "They lock them in cages, and beat them with metal sticks when they don't "behave", aniola. " I did a bit of research that I thought was relevant and worth sharing.

There are places where they do tie elephants up with chains all the time and presumably places where they get locked up in cages. I'm sure these abuses happen a lot or the mahouts and elephant reserve people I met wouldn't have been so concerned with making sure we got to hear about how good they are to their elephants. There are also places - at least in Thailand; that's all I looked up - where the elephants are in fact released into the jungle for foraging at night and where they have had relationships with humans for centuries.

I guess if it were a whim rather than an obsession, I would skip it and maybe turn my bike into an elephant art bike and be the most popular bike in town.

If I were obsessed with the idea of riding an elephant, I would save up enough money to go spend some time in a place where elephants actually are from because I imagine that there is a greater likelihood that you'll be able to find an ecosystem that is naturally designed to support elephants. Do a lot of research and see if you can find an elephant reserve somewhere where elephants actually come from that will let you "volunteer" or a village you can stay in and help out in exchange for you paying rent and board or something.
posted by aniola at 8:26 PM on March 13, 2011

To echo aniola with the story of an actual elephant, the life of Shirley, the oldest elephant at The Elephant Sanctuary where you can watch the elephants roaming free in Tennessee, is astounding. One of the founders of TES now works as a consultant to improve working and living conditions for elephants worldwide. Read Carol Buckley's blog about her recent work in Thailand.
I am writing this because I have come to enjoy these and other stories, including NG specials about elephants and to stand in awe of the magnificent creatures they are. It has proved to be a better joy for me to learn about them and to watch them even on the screen than to have a memory of a single ride I might have enjoyed in some time past.
posted by Anitanola at 8:46 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

... the largest animal on land is the African elephant. No one rides those ...

A friend just sent me photos yesterday from her visit to the Elephant Sanctuary here in South Africa, and her kids went for a ride on an African elephant.

As for the conditions, I think it can vary a lot depending on the place.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 10:44 PM on March 13, 2011

Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon has elephant rides sometimes. They rotate with the camels, who are the current attraction. It's a lovely park, very low-key and relaxing, and the animals are the sweetest ever. :-) I've ridden their elephants a few times.

posted by I_love_the_rain at 1:21 AM on March 14, 2011

Took my boy prince for an Elephant Ride at the Orange County Fair in 2009. I'm not sure if they will be there again this year.
posted by Palmcorder Yajna at 7:58 AM on March 14, 2011

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