Elephants are one of the planet’s most fascinating and majestic mammals. These sweet creatures are not only highly intelligent; they’re also compassionate and self-aware with an immense capacity for memory amongst many other remarkable traits.
In Thailand, elephants play an important role in Thai society. They are highly revered amongst locals and have been portrayed as sacred symbols in Buddhism for hundreds of years.
A trip to our beautiful country provides an unparalleled opportunity to get up close and personal with these very special creatures. It offers the opportunity to learn about how to protect and preserve the Asian elephant population.
Elephant experiences have long been popular with visitors and while it has taken time to understand the best ways in which to implement ethical elephant tourism, times are changing with active support by the Thai government to better improve current and future standards. Today, there are many welfare-based operations that are educating elephant owners, mahouts (elephant caregivers) and visitors to change and adapt ancient practices to further improve elephant welfare.
Here are just some of the important, ethical facets of Thailand’s elephant tourism industry that are taking it into the future:
Thailand is a small country with a population of over 69 million people and thus, little land for elephants to roam in the wild. Like horses and camels, elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years. Much of Thailand’s elephant population worked in the logging industry until this practice was banned in 1989. Though the ban was the right decision for animal welfare, it left domesticated elephants without work. Since it is often unsafe to return domesticated animals to the wild, the most humane and ethical way to keep elephants active and cared for was to involve them in tourism. Many of these elephant sanctuaries offer safe and secure refuge for elephants and a unique and wonderful human-animal interaction for visitors.
Many Thai elephant camps foster animals that have experienced loss, stress, and trauma. They serve as a sanctuary as well as rescue and recovery centres. The money raised from visitation is used towards necessary nutrition, healthcare, rehab, positive training and so much more.
Educational programs are an important aspect of the experience at many elephant sanctuaries. It is important that visitors learn about the plight of the animals and the need to protect and take care of them.
Educational programs allow visitors to gain an understanding of the history and background of the revered Thai elephants as well as why they are so important to the country, their significance in Buddhism, their biology and the behaviours they display to indicate wellbeing.
One of the most exciting aspects of elephant education is that it teaches visitors how to safely and positively engage with domesticated elephants via words and voice techniques. This leads to kind methods of engaging with the animals and sharing a very special day taking care of them.
Welfare and Relationship building with elephants
Speaking of taking care of elephants; a half, full or multi-day program of this nature is one of the key elements in supporting elephant welfare. Programs that allow visitors to bond with the animals in an intimate way allow visitors to gain a real understanding of what it takes to provide care for an elephant and see firsthand why these sanctuaries are vital for the wellbeing of Thai elephants.
Visitors are taught how to approach an elephant, how to check their health, and how to communicate with the animals through spoken commands. Going through a relationship-building program encourages visitors to intimately take care of these beautiful creatures in natural ways such as feeding or walking with them through the jungle.
Many sanctuaries are determined to provide elephants with the highest quality of life possible and human-elephant interaction is what makes them so special. Moreover, it ensures what is often a life-enhancing experience with these magnificent animals while learning about them and ultimately helping them in their natural environment.