For many people, riding on an elephant in Thailand is at the top of their bucket list. Who wouldn’t be enamored by these majestic creatures. I too had plans to visit the elephants in Thailand but after doing research I found that many of the places are unethical and torture these beautiful animals. In Thailand, elephants are celebrated but there is very little to protect them. Asian elephants are endangered and they are being captured for tourism every day.
Using elephants to ride or perform circus acts is not a natural thing a wild elephant would do. An elephant is taken as a baby and tortured until it’s spirit is broken so that they will obey. The torture doesn’t stop there, it continues their whole life. They are prodded, poked, stabbed and whipped to make sure they comply with their mahout. At the elephant sanctuary we went to we saw elephants that were harmed from trekking, logging, being in the circus and from stepping on landmines.
Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is a nature sanctuary tucked away in the beautiful jungles of Northern Thailand in Chiang Mai. Their mission is to protect and care for mistreated elephants rescued from the tourism and logging industries. The owner of ENP receives pictures of hurt elephants from people visiting other camps and goes to purchase them from the owners. The elephants are very expensive to feed and take care of and ENP is funded through the people who visit the park.
Increasing awareness and promoting sustainable elephant-friendly tourism is another goal. The park currently cares for over 70 adult elephants and 6 baby elephants on 250 acres of wilderness. Only 34 of the mature elephants are able to be viewed and cared for by visitors. The remaining elephants are not able to be around adults other than their caregivers because of their fear or aggression toward people because of their past treatment. ENP have also rescued water buffalo, cats, a pig and at least 500 dogs from slaughterhouses that were going to be used for food which, is now illegal in Thailand.
Elephants sleep for 4 hours a day and eat for 18 hours a day which is why they are so expensive to keep. Watermelon, Banana, Pumpkin, Pineapple and cucumber are their favorite foods. They love to snack on sweet corn as well.
You can see the sad pasts these elephants have had to face all over their bodies. Many of these animals take years to heal and some may never do heal from their injuries. They all have smiling, happy faces now that they are in a happy home. Elephants stay together in harmony in 3’s. They get adopted based on their personalities in the same way the Mahouts (their handlers) get chosen.
Their life span is the same as humans; 70-80 years old. We were lucky enough to meet the oldest member of ENP sanctuary: Yai Bua who is a 90 year old grandmother. The saddest part of her story is that she was just rescued a year ago at 89 years of age. Elephants have 6 sets of teeth in their life so the older ones over 70 have no teeth left and require special care when feeding them.
While hugging a tiger may be cute, it is extremely unethical. The tigers are drugged as a baby and force fed out of baby bottles. They don’t get any time to run in the wild. There are no places where you can get up close and personal with a tiger that are ethical. Please don’t do it.
There are many places in Thailand such as Sail Rock near Koh Tao or Phanang or Richelieu rock that you can dive or snorkel in hopes of seeing whale sharks. As long as you are careful and go to a reputable dive shop there is no harm and seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.
Please, do your research when you are doing anything animal related. But do visit these amazing creatures!
Here are a few tips:
- Don’t ride an elephant even if they claim to be a responsible park.
- If it is not something that animals normally do, they are probably being drugged or tortured to do it.
- Do support Save the Elephants Foundation.
- Don’t go to the circus.
Wouldn’t you rather do this and see an elephant smile… than ride on an elephant?