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Thailand's Elephant Tourism

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:

Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, Lampang

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

 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. 

OUR HOPE 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.

Pattara Elephant Farm

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. 

Looking more broadly at different aspects of elephant tourism we also visited: 

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!

Linking with thanks to all the hosts at Our World Tuesday


Anita said…
Beautiful post about the elephants!They look so wise:)))

Greetings Anita
Anonymous said…
Elephants have the right to be treated well, they're beautiful creatures!
Lovely to see your photographs.
Elephants are wonderful creatures.

All the best Jan
eileeninmd said…

I enjoyed this post on Thailand's elephants. I would enjoy seeing them in the wild, I have only seen them in zoo's. Great post and photos.
Take care, enjoy your day and weekend!
Cynthia said…
What a treat, to spend time with elephants. We have watched several documentaries on them but one we had to turn off because I couldn’t watch the mistreatment that some of them go through in captivity. So, was really glad to read that they no longer have elephant polo matches. I would buy Poopoopaper to support the elephants and give it as gifts! I love the photo of you giving the elephant a hug. I WANT TO DO THAT!!!
Margaret D said…
How wonderful, just love elephants and have a few here at home, ornaments.
It's was pleasing to read about the elephants and your coming and goings on them..well done.
Take care.
Jeanie said…
I can't even imagine the sheer joy of being able to hug the elephant's trunk. They are such magnificent animals. I'm glad there are retirement homes for them. I learned a lot from this one!
Teresa said…
Me encantan los elefantes, pero sobre todo libres en la naturaleza. Gracias y un beso.
mvmaithai said…
Hi Jenny,

Wow, what a wonderful learning experience! About 20 years ago, we took a ride on an elephant in the Phuket area. It was uncomfortable and the path was muddy and stinky:-(! I wouldn't do it again. The Thais revere the elephants so I'm assuming they are giving these animals the best treatment.

Love your pictures!
Coastal Ripples said…
Great to become more aware of the issues facing elephants. If I ever had the chance I would just like to see and watch elephants in their natural environment. So sad that they are being mistreated but great that places now exist to improve their lot. B x
Gattina said…
Of course the first elephant in my life was in a small little circus in a little town on the countryside. I was perhaps 9 or 10 and I was angry that he was attached at one leg with a chain. I asked the man who was with him, fortunately he was very kind and explained that even dogs have a collar only the elephant's neck was too large. That seemed logical to me. The elephant too was very friendly and I wished I could have taken him home.

I am for both elephants in nature living wild, if they are born into it, but I would prefer that the other elephants born in capture would live free in protected animal parks, and we should take care of them. I saw the once in Pairi Daiza in Belgium they seemed really happy. This is the ideal animal park and I guess the best one in Europe where animals come first and humans second.
I know a bit more about the Indian Elephants which are used to work like our horses in the past. As long as they are well treated I have nothing against. Unfortunately that's not always the case. I am getting furious when I see how camels are sometimes treated in Egypt and once forgot everything around me, took the stick with which a guy beat the poor camel and kicked him with my foot just into his fat face ! That caused a big mess I tell you ! I would do the same for all animals. I have also read books about elephants and friendship with the owner and elephants who will never forget.
In short I am for protected animal parks where they live nearly in freedom but protected and fed by humans. Those who are wild should live in the jungle or wood or whatever, but be protected against poachers ! Unfortunately ivory hunters still exists fortunately it is quite difficult to sell it now becausse it is forbidden.
Sandra Cox said…
Elephants are such wondrous creatures. Paper from poo. Huh.
Elephant conservation is very important.
Janice said…
Poo paper may bypass some of the necessary processing of vegetation, lol. Natural habitat and how humans and elephants can live in coexistence. The coexistence issue applies to all animals and humans. Look forward to upcoming posts.
Birgitta said…
Love elephants in freedom.
DeniseinVA said…
Such an interesting post Wren and what an incredible experience. Even as a very young girl when my parents took me to the circus, I didn’t enjoy seeing those beautiful animals in such a restricted environment. I would love to see them in their natural world.
I adore elephants. And they deserve to be treated well, like all animals. Like all of us, really.
It's a complex issue indeed. On the one hand I love to see animals roaming free, but on the other hand there is so much poaching going on and they are dying needlessly in the wild because of that. I think there needs to be a balance between wild, domesticated and conservation programs in order to ensure the future of these beautiful creatures. It seems, from what you've said, that Thailand is doing their best to create that balance and kudos to them for that.
Lillie said…
What a wonderful and interesting post and a joy to your travels. How lucky Thailand had opened up for travelling. And oh! how I missed Thailand.
Currently, we are not even allowed inter-district travelling. Take Care !
Sami said…
What a great experience Wren. I'm glad elephants are now being more respected and treated kindly. I hate to see them in captivity or in circus.
Amy Johnson said…
Such a beautiful post. I would love to visit there. I'm sorry you got caught up in the drone footage. I feel that often people who speak on behalf of animal rights have very little experience or understanding of animals, even if they have the best intentions. I think zoos and places like this are so necessary for education but I agree that whenever possible animals should be left in the wild.

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