Why NOT to visit the Elephants in Thailand
On visiting Thailand, of course everyone wants to see an elephant. But let us give you enough info that you won’t get sucked into the same money-making animal exploitation tourist traps that we did. Visiting elephants in Thailand – Or ANY animal parks for that matter, the animals are mistreated, and used as a way to make money off tourists. We were already aware of this, so being purposefully cautious of the places we did go, however we STILL managed to end up supporting places which were not treating animals as the beautiful beings they are. As first time visitors to Thailand’s North, we did go to visit the “happy” elephants, and we were sucked into visiting a number of animal parks “on the way” to our destination on other occasions, which we immediately regretted, so we have now taken the time to share this info so that we might make others aware of what they could be getting themselves into when visiting elephant (or any animal parks) in Thailand.
Shaun shared our experience on Tripadvisor, which is as follows (couldn’t have said it better myself!):
“Being avid animal lovers and committed to the ethical treatment of animals and eco friendly tourism, we decided we wanted to contribute to changing the damaging history Thailand has to its treatment of elephants. After a lot of debating and researching on legitimate elephant rescue centres in Thailand, two names showed up. Elephant Nature Park, and RanTong Save and Rescue Elephant Camp. Elephant Nature Park we discovered was booked out months in advance, which left us only one option – RanTong Elephant Camp. RanTong Save and Rescue Elephant Camp had advertised that they rescue elephants and the reviews looked rather good, although they did offer elephant riding, which we were very sceptical about, so we booked a “no riding” visit.
On the drive in to the centre, we noticed massive stables close to the grounds with many large elephants in small pens, straight away something didn’t feel right. The tour was run by a young guy who seemed less than pleased to be there, and less than interested in elephants, with next to no knowledge about them. As soon as our tour started the guide mentioned “Please be aware that we are one elephant chained up and several others tied to the posts”. This came as quite a shock to everyone, as everything on their website specifically said no chains, ropes or sticks used! Once we got to where the elephants were we realised that ALL the elephants were tied to the poles, with ropes no longer than 3 feet long. The mother elephant, was chained by the foot to a chain no longer than a foot long. The rest of them around six baby elephants all chained to posts besides one newborn elephant they let roam free (apparently). All the elephants we saw all day were constantly swaying, grunting and had the appearance of being under stress. I am guessing once these baby elephants grow up they are taken to the riding part of the camp, where the riding takes place – We did not see these elephants, only the baby ones.
We asked were they always tied up? With reply “we have to keep the elephants tied up because we have no fences”. When asking if they were planning to put fences in this question was avoided. We asked how is this elephant camp different to the other elephant camps in the treatment of animals the only answer was “we don’t use saddles when riding them, the saddles dig into their skin”. When asked if the elephants get to roam free at any point we were answered with “there are two visits per day, the elephants get taken for a walk and bathed during these visits”. The first time we saw the elephants off their ropes for “feeding time” they were walked about 20 metres from where they were tied up, given some sugar cane by visitors, then walked back and tied up again. The second time we were taken to bathe the elephants in mud and give them a wash in the river, which some of the elephants seemed to enjoy, others tried to run off, were forced to come back and take part.
We kept asking questions to our guide, about the wellbeing of the animals, most were severely dodged, or ignored. From all we could see these young elephants we visited under the “no riding” tour, were being groomed to become the next riding slaves for the other “riding tour” offered with this camp. We did not have the chance to see the elephants at the riding camp, but from what we could tell they were ridden all day, or kept chained up when not being ridden. This was one of the few companies that advertises itself as an ethical rescue centre, which from what we could see was nothing more than a money making scam. Just another typical riding camp that breaks young elephants to become the riding slaves of the future. We would be very hesitant to visit any other camp as it is obvious there is no ethical way to keep these majestic animals in captivity. We are very sorry we had any part in contributing to this corrupt system that exploits animals in this way.”
In regards to other animal parks we have heard and have no doubt that the tigers are drugged, sedated so that visitors can get photos with them. We were taken to a reptile park on the way to our destination, (we thought would be okay) we were horrified on arrival, to see crocodiles completely docile and out of it, possibly also drugged up while a Thai man ran around putting his head in their mouths, while they hardly moved. From our short stay in Chiang Mai, we felt sad we had been even a small part of this. Please when visiting Thailand be aware of where your money is going, and don’t get sucked in (like we did) to the ruthless exploitation of animals.