Hugging and kissing an elephant, bathing them, watching them play – sounds pretty amazing doesn't it? And trust me IT IS!
But unfortunately many people still travel to Thailand to see elephants and don't think about visiting in a responsible way.
By choosing a reputable Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai you can make a difference and you will have one of the most unique experiences of your life that you will never forget.
Choosing the right Elephant Sanctuary
The chance to interact with elephants is one of the biggest draws to Thailand. Almost all tourists will want to make this incredible experience. Now, as you can imagine, these gorgeous giants have become a huge success for business. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of animal abuse. It is important to know some basic facts about elephants and the respective elephants sanctuaries before visiting.
Even before the tourists overwhelmed Thailand it was very common (and in some parts still is) to abuse elephants for physical work, such as using them as a method of transport, putting baskets on their backs or using them to carry heavy things across the countryside. An other place where abuse takes place is the circus or camps where elephants are used as performers to draw tourists.
It is key to do some proper research before visiting one of the many sanctuaries. I keep saying sanctuaries: also remember to always support sanctuaries – not parks or camps!
A place that calls itself an elephant sanctuary should in theory (and hopefully also in reality) be a place where retired elephants can live in peace, no longer needing to work. Rescued elephants e.g. from the circus may be brought here, those who have been maltreated, injured or orphaned in the wild or made to beg on the streets to get money from tourists.
An elephant camp may also be home to rescued or retired animals, but it is also traditionally associated with training them. Elephant camps often offer rides to tourists, as well as performances. The animals may also demonstrate the skills they used when they were working.
Is it ethical to visit an Elephant Sanctuary? Asking yourself that question is important. We all know it is not natural to wild animals to be so peaceful around humans. Now, you must understand that these elephants were rarely to never ever wild animals. They are mostly rescued animals from the circus, a private family where they were used to work or a camp where they were used as a tourist attraction to perform stunts.
Now with the “saving” (buying) of the elephants rises the next problem. The sanctuaries may take care of the elephants, but they are fueling the trade by creating a market and providing smugglers with money to go out and capture more elephants to make money off of tourism.
It is a difficult topic and it is completely up to you if you decide to visit one of the sanctuaries. Of course, not all elephant sanctuaries make their money off of mistreatment. There are plenty of places that are dedicated to providing a happy, healthy and safe home for elephants. I did a lot of research and called several elephant homes to talk to the owners. It was important to me to know that the animals are not forced to bathe just because all the tourists came. If they feel lake bathing they shall, if not also fine. They are animals and not circus puppets. Also absolutely no riding! Talking to several sanctuaries I ended up having two places on my top list:
I understand that it is not normal for elephants to be in captivity or to interact with humans. Visiting or not visiting is completely up to you. Nobody can take the decision for you and there are as many cons as there are pros. In a perfect world, they will live freely on a nature preserve where they wouldn't have any interaction with people. But Thailand and other countries such as Myanmar have a long way to go. Elephants have been poached and captured for decades and this is a good start to promoting responsible tourism. Rescuing abused and mistreated elephants from logging and riding camps is the first start to a very long process. There are still thousands to be rescued. Show the Thai companies you care and stop riding elephants now. Support an elephant sanctuary in Chaing Mai or anywhere in Thailand instead!
I decided to visit and I do not regret the experience. It was one of the most emotional moments I've made while traveling. Interacting with elephants in such a beautiful way is unbelievable. Do your research and then enjoy this unique and unforgettable adventure!!
--> Read about my experience at the Happy Elephant Home!!!