Hello and greetings to you from Bangkok. I have just finished an incredible week of travel looking at Thailand's elephant care tourism.
Thailand was expecting 40 million visitors this year, the pandemic closed the borders and has decimated all aspects of Thai tourism. I was one of eight bloggers, journalists and influencers invited by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to learn more about the current situation for elephant care.
I came with a clear set of assumptions that :
- Elephants are wild animals and should be in the wild.
- Riding elephants for tourism is not something I would support.
- Elephant circus and tourist shows should be abolished.
In 2018 for my birthday, we attended the annual fundraising King's Cup Anantara Elephant Polo. The monies raised went to support amongst others the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort. We spent our honeymoon at this wonderful elephant sanctuary and I was keen to contribute towards their work.
We joined a dawn yoga lesson overlooking the Chao Phraya river, whilst the elephants looked on. Afterwards, we fed the elephants breakfast. It was memorable and harmless enough until it became memorable for all the wrong reasons. We ended up in drone footage of a PETA animal activists video where claims were made about brutal cruelty at the event.
This bolstered my interest in Thailand's elephants, I felt I had a responsibility to learn more. You can read more here: Postcard from the King's Cup Elephant Polo. For the record Anantara no longer runs the elephant polo fundraiser.
From this time I knew that care and funding for Thailand's elephants was a complex issue. I learned that some elephants are third or fourth generation 'domesticated' animals, they can not just be released into the wild, and that in Thailand the natural habitat for elephants was under threat through over development.
Our trip gave us the opportunity to visit three Thai elephant conservation centres:
This 300-acre area consists of a Government-run elephant hospital and training school, which helps to conserve the Thai elephants and protect them from extinction. We met and talked with the vet at the elephant hospital.
Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai
A retirement home for all elephants who have previously worked hard for tourism entertainment or in the logging industry. We were able to feed, interact, play with and bathe the elephants in their natural environment.
is to lead by example, and contribute to a positive change in the perception of elephants; to witness a future where elephants are not ridden, poached, overworked, or abused, and are instead treated with care, love, and respect.
This elephant farm is all about rescue, recovery, reproduction and reintroduction for elephants back into the wild. We learned the latest updates on elephant care from a range of veterinarian experts at the Pattara Elephant Farm and from Chiang Mai University.
Elephant PooPooPaper Park, Chiang Mai
An eco-friendly, outdoor museum park that introduced us to making paper products from elephant poo!
I came away after three days with so much information in my head on elephants that I needed a time of reflection. It felt like a huge responsibility to get all the answers to the questions we had and also to put across our perspectives on elephant welfare and tourism.
We asked lots of questions including the following:
1. Why are you still breeding domesticated elephants?
2. What is Thailand's official policy on riding elephants, has it/will it be banned?
3. Are Thailand's wild elephants endangered?
4. Can you share with us how an elephant is trained, does it involve cruelty?
5. How are Thailand's elephant sanctuary's doing given that tourist donations are massively reduced?
I am preparing future blog posts and would love your help to identify what aspects of elephant tourism might be of interest?
I would love to know in the comments what you feel on any of the following issues:
1. How important is elephant conservation to you?
2. As a tourist visiting Thailand what would encourage you to donate towards elephant welfare? Would you be interested to ride, feed or bath an elephant? Or are you more interested to only see elephants in their natural habitat roaming free?
3. What are your experiences with elephants?
4. What questions might you have on Thailand's elephant care?
Thank you in advance for all your wonderful comments!