Elephants are highly intelligent and social animals, and this means of taming them produces nothing more than one of the cruellest shows on earth where you become more than just a spectator, but a participant.
Elephant bathing without abusive practice.
As a firm believer in karma, I’ve always felt guilty about what I have done. I tell people not to ride elephants or bathe with them to counteract my actions. I want to educate people about why you shouldn’t ride elephants in Thailand or anywhere else in the world.
Lek is hoping to change all that with her project, where tourism can move away from exploitation and bring elephants back to their natural environment through rehabilitation and education.
Elephant Nature Park promotes a core education and awareness programme that is helping to overcome a huge problem that exists with tourists riding elephants in Thailand.
You shouldn’t be riding elephants, only observing them in the wild.
You know you’ve done an excellent job when the elephant trunk hugs its caretaker in delight.
You will never RIDE an elephant, anywhere, EVER again.
The elephants at Elephant Nature Park come mostly from abusive pasts, including being overworked in trekking camps, forced breeding and street begging. It leaves them with permanent injuries from the horrific torture they had to endure at the hands of their owners, who use a practice known as ‘phajaan’ or the ‘crush’.
The Truth About Riding Elephants in Thailand
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You can visit Elephant Nature Park for one day (2,500 ฿), as I did, or do an overnight stay (5,800 ฿), multi-night and volunteer weeks (12,000 ฿). All visits include transport to the project site from the ENP city office, bus station or the hotel where you are staying. You can find an overview of the visit and volunteering packages here and book a full day trip, including hotel pick-up and drop-off.
No shows, no rides, and no gimmicks. Just love.
After all, what would Thailand be without its elephants?
While tourism has given elephants a new lifeline, there are no strict penalties for abuse and no extensive measures to avoid mistreatment.
Chose an Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand
The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai
There are many reasons why you shouldn’t be riding elephants in Thailand, and visiting the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai enlightens you as to why. It remains one of my most significant and most valuable lessons in travel about wildlife tourism in South East Asia.
You can interact with elephants without riding them.
There are also no shows, no rides, and no gimmicks like elephant painting. Instead, all that radiates from the elephants and everyone that works here is love, trust and positive reinforcement.
A guide is with you at all times, taking you to the best viewing spots via the walking platforms or out in the open where you can interact with the elephants freely, alongside each of their caretakers.
Elephants enjoy at the Elephant Nature Park after a life of abuse and mistreatment.
Playful elephants know the Nature Park guides and carers.
Responsible Interaction with Elephants in Thailand
Choose an ethical elephant sanctuary like Elephant Nature Park, with responsible ways to view and interact with the animals.
For more information about Elephant Nature Park, visit their official website.
Elephant Nature Park invited me on a one-day visit to experience the incredible work being done here and help raise awareness of the plight of the endangered Asian elephant. They did not ask me to write a favourable review and all opinions in this article remain my own based on what I saw, felt and learned.
We need to save the endangered Asian Elephant, not be responsible for their demise.
Even a neighbouring elephant camp has decided to try out the Elephant Nature Park’s concept of care and retire their female elephants from tourism treks.
Freedom. Say no to elephant riding in Thailand.
Feeding Elephants Responsibly
Placing a big chunk of fruit or a small bunch of bananas at the end of the elephant’s trunk, it’s in their mouth and swallowed quicker than you can reach into the basket for the next piece. The cheeky ones even find a way to outdo you, swooping their trucks into the empty food basket to hoover up every last bit.
In 1989 logging was banned in Thailand, putting working elephants out of a job. Thailand sold many elephants to neighbouring countries such as Burma, and those elephants left were seen as pests. The population of elephants in Thailand quickly declined, but those that remained were left with one legal option – working in tourism. Many elephants were (and still are) abandoned or left to die without it.
You don’t have to ride or sit on an elephant to help bathe it.
Elephants were not made for humans.
Bathing Elephants Responsibly
In Chiang Mai, I researched, collected promotional leaflets and looked at treks, tours and day trips from local providers. All offered itineraries that included riding elephants – precisely the kind of ill practice I was trying to avoid.
Education and awareness. The best kind of experience seeing elephants.
Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants in Thailand
Seeing elephants and getting close responsibly.
Only then did the sheer unhappiness of these creatures strike me. The realisation that while we humans pale compared to the size of an elephant, this kind of contact violates their freedom and makes them unhappy. I vowed never to engage in such practices ever again.
Do you think an elephant loves shooting water at you through its trunk while you jump around on its back while the mahout continues to hit it throughout the ‘performance’? Hell no! You certainly won’t be seeing that here – not even the caretakers climb on the animals!
Guides are with you at all times during your interactions with the elephants.
At the park, you spend the entire day interacting, observing and assisting with the feeding of the animals. As soon as you arrive, you are given a quick orientation tour and are straight out in the vast green 250 acres of landscape these elephants get to call home.
Except to work in tourism, elephants get subjected to a horrifying and abusive ‘training’ process called “the crush”. Living in cruel living conditions, shackled and beaten, the elephants suffer extreme psychological and psychical abuse as part of a method to get them to submit to humans and basic commands.
Help End Elephant Rides in Thailand – Pin It!
Only half of the Thai elephant population is considered endangered – and that’s the wild ones. The rest, per Thai traditions, are seen as livestock or ‘domesticated’ and are therefore not protected. But I’m also guilty. While I never visit poorly run zoos, join baited cage dives with animals or give money for a picture with a dancing monkey, I have engaged in harmful tourism practice when it comes to the treatment of elephants in Thailand and Asia generally.
The elephants arrive at the feeding station.