There are fewer countries whose culture is so connected to elephants like Thailand, but how good is that for elephants? Surely there are more elephants statues around cities and temples of Thailand than there are wild elephants left in the wilderness of Thailand, last estimate around 2000 exemplars.
And Thailand, as part of the South-East Asia region, has been among champions at deforestation and continues to lead ahead in unsustainable tourism. Apart from the coral reefs destruction through negligence of the local motor boats driver and industrial destruction of tropical forests, wild animals also suffer through extreme exploitation, either through illegal trade or tourism industry.
An apparently innocent elephant ride, multiplied with the massive number of foreign tourists in Thailand, have developed over years an industry which seems to have brought massive suffering to these wonderful and extremely socially complex herbivores. There are few sources of reading below to understand how suffering starts since elephant is just a baby, to adulthood, and older age, where, if lucky, it ends in the elephant sanctuary (if saved in time).
One piece of advise for tourists, which still have doubts, is to visit first an elephant sanctuary, and then they can decide if they take the ride or not. I am sure they will have doubts…Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand
Can elephant tourism be ethical? by The Telegraph