Elephants have always been important in Thailand, where they certainly are a symbol of religion, history, royalty, and power.
According to Buddhist legend, Queen Maya of Sakya, Lord Buddha’s mother, dreamed a divine Bodhisattva on a white elephant touched her side. She later became pregnant, and since that time, elephants have had a solid link with divinity and royalty in Buddhism. As Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist society, elephants are held in high esteem.
Additionally, elephants were found in the logging industry to greatly help clear trees, so there is a practical nature with their importance aswell.
After a government-imposed ban on logging in 1989, the industry dwindled and suddenly most of these elephants had no “purpose.” Their owners were left needing a method to make money for his or her families and the care of the elephants. Since most tourists found Thailand thinking “I can’t wait to ride an elephant,” it had been a lucrative transition.
Elephants were taken into cities and fed by tourists who wanted an image. In the jungles, riding camps were setup where visitors could ride an elephant through the jungle, take their photos, and return house with tales of their cool experience.
Elephants became big business in the united states. In the end, as a tourist, who wouldn’t want an opportunity to see or ride one? It’s a dream become a reality for most.
When I lived in Thailand, I learned all about the real nature of elephant tourism. I learned how those elephants roaming the streets were drugged and frequently starved.
And it had been illegal too.
Elephants in cities have been banned for a long time, but, as is common in Thailand, officials turned a blind eye or were paid.
I was always torn: do I ignore them, hoping this will eventually end the practice, or do I feed the elephant out of kindness but perpetuate this cruelty?
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, after a major accident that left a kid, a driver, and an elephant dead, that officials in Bangkok finally cracked down and managed to get elephant free.
And there’s the riding? After all riding an elephant sounds amazing!
Until you understand the way the animal is treated, especially in Thailand.
When you ride an elephant, you get yourself a glimpse to their poor treatment. I recall once yelling at the mahout (trainer) for swinging his hook a touch too hard at the elephant. It left me very perturbed — and wishing I hadn’t ridden that elephant.
I didn’t know better. There wasn’t a whole lot of good information regarding there about how exactly to see elephants in Thailand in a socially responsible way.
However the additional time I spent in Thailand, the more I learned that we now have no good elephant riding parks in every of Thailand. All abuse and mistreat their elephants — despite what they state. Moreover, riding elephants is in fact terrible for his or her growth and development.
Luckily, there’s been a big movement within the last couple of years to safeguard the elephants and, now tourists, have much more ethical options with regards to elephants in Thailand.
The pionner is Elephant Nature Park. Led by Lek Chailert, Elephant Nature Park (ENP) ‘s been around since 1996 and may be the biggest conservation and elephant rescue organization in Thailand.
Located beyond Chiang Mai, it really is currently home to around 80 elephants (and also a menagerie of other animals) which have been saved from the tourism and logging industries. It’s a “retirement” home for elephants
Demand is indeed high, not merely for visitors but volunteers too, you need to make reservations beforehand to go to (for volunteers, that may mean up to year beforehand). When I tried to go to a couple of years ago, these were already booked for another month!
This time around, I booked ahead and managed visit and see all of the good they do:
The more you find out about elephants in Thailand, the more you understand the necessity for change. It had been heartbreaking hearing the stories of every elephant and seeing so many with broken backs, legs, and missing feet. Luckily, due to organizations like ENP and more socially conscious tourists, things are changing.
ENP has began to use the riding camps to stop riding and move toward more animal-friendly practices. Thais are learning that folks will pay a lot of money to feed, bathe, and play with elephants and that this is often more lucrative, popular, and more sustainable than offering rides.
As such, nowadays there are a whole lot of places around Thailand where one can see and connect to elephants in a responsible way through the entire country:
- Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand — A full-day visit is 1,600 THB per person and a half-day visit is 1,100 THB per person (excluding transport). wfft.orgl
- Elephant Hills — Luxury jungle camps with two-day tours that cost between 14,000-16,000 THB. elephanthills.com
- The Surin Project — Home to up to 200 elephants, here you can volunteer for eight weeks. The purchase price is 13,000 THB weekly (7 days may be the minimum volunteer period). surinproject.org.
- Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary — The price to go to is 6,000 THB per night, and reservations should be manufactured in advance. blesele.org.
The elephant camps aren’t gone yet. They won’t be for an extended, long time. But with an increase of educated tourists and an economic incentive for locals to take care of the elephants better, hopefully, we are able to severely reduce these camps within the next couple of years (and finally eliminate them).
Therefore the the next time you’re in Thailand, please don’t ride the elephants. If you would like to see an elephant, visit Elephant Nature Park or an identical program and help protect these amazing creatures.
You’ll get yourself a closer and more personal interaction with the elephants, and you’ll be doing good. It’s a win-win for everybody involved.
How exactly to Visit Elephant Nature Park
ENP is situated near Chiang Mai, though they do have branches around the united states (and in Cambodia) that also offer interactive, ethical experiences.
Short visits to ENP last 6-7 hours and cost 2,500 THB per person. This consists of a vegetarian lunch buffet and also transportation to/from Chiang Mai.
Their popular overnight visit (2 days, 1 night) costs 5,800 THB per person and includes meals, transportation, and accommodation.
For a 7-day volunteer experience, be prepared to pay between 12,000-15,000 THB based on which branch you visit.
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