Things you should consider when going on a tour involving elephants in Thailand: How to enjoy the elephants without supporting cruelty
Excerpt from original post Thailand 2014: Phi Phi Islands, Bangkok, Chanthaburi, and Kao Laem National Park. Read about our trip to Thailand here.
Everyone wants to ride elephants in Thailand. It was on my bucket list, and we did it. However, before you go riding elephants in Thailand, there are some things you need to know.
First of all, there are many abusive and bad elephant camps. Most elephants in Thailand were rescued from working in the logging industry. Rescued probably isn’t the right word for many of them. They are trained in abusive and torturous ways, and taught to associate disobeying humans with pain. Beatings, starvation, and overwork are common. Baby elephants are taken from their mothers, who agonize and mourn the loss of their children.
Many elephant camps in touristy areas force the elephants to carry tourists non stop all day with no breaks, wearing metal seats that dig into their backs and cause blisters. Elephants need a lot of rest, food, and water. The mahouts (elephant trainers) beat the elephants with bull hooks when they don’t obey their orders.
There are some humane elephant camps out there, however. Some people say that riding elephants should be boycotted. Unfortunately, the issue isn’t black and white. Elephants need care–food, water, and veterinary services are all expensive for such large animals. And people will never stop wanting to see and ride elephants in Thailand. So, tourism dollars are needed and in abundant supply to sustain their care. Also, people having interaction with such amazing creatures helps them care about the elephants and want to protect them. I believe that supporting reputable elephant camps and rescues is important.
Unfortunately, I don’t know a lot about the elephant camp we visited. Here is what I know and observed:
* The elephants had an expansive property for their habitat, including forests, a river, and acres and acres of land.
* The tour was booked by a friend of mine who owns the Lake Safari Tour, who I trust to choose an ethical company
* We were the only tourists there going on rides that I saw. It was not in a high tourist-traffic area
* There were many elephants resting and eating grass and plants throughout the expansive property
* The mahouts shouted things at the elephants, but we didn’t see any bull hooks or abuse. The elephants often stopped and bent down or lifted their legs to let the mahouts on them
* The elephants appeared healthy, well-fed, and seemed happy (almost bashful)
* The seats we were in were made of bamboo, with big heavy burlap/fiber pads underneath for the elephant’s comfort
I have no idea how the elephants are trained or what their life is like. I can only hope that all the positive things I saw means that they are well cared for and not abused. I’m not an expert in elephant care though, and I really can’t say for sure.
Here is an article on how to choose an ethical elephant encounter when you visit Thailand: http://takingtotheopenroad.com/choosing-an-ethical-elephant-encounter/ It has recommendations on certain parks and camps. I strongly encourage you to do the research and make sure that you support a company that treats the elephants in Thailand humanely.