elephants in Chiang Mai
The national animal of Thailand
Many tourists to Thailand look forward to riding elephants, the national animal of the kingdom. Elephants are awesome! They are extremely intelligent an encounter with them can be the highlight of any visit to Thailand.
Unfortunately, Thailand doesn't have the best track record with elephant welfare, and many of these incredibly animals, especially those in the tourism industry, are abused.
Learn more about how to recognize an ethical elephant organization, and how you can help the elephants in Thailand.
"Breaking" an elephant
The first thing that you need to know is that ANY elephant in this part of the world that is being used for tourist rides, performances, or logging has been through a process called “phajaan” or “breaking", and is exactly what it sounds like. It is usually inflicted on very young elephants who have been taken from their mothers. Elephants are beat from a very young age to break their spirit to make them docile and obedient.
Another thing to be aware of is that the seat and harness that many of the elephants are forced to wear is not only extremely painful for the elephant to wear, but also damages their spine over time. Also, the animals are kept chained when they are not being used, which leads to some very strange behaviors which are not seen in wild, free elephants. This is a syndrome called "zoochosis" and it’s just plain sad.
Please don't ride the elephants
So when you are in Chiang Mai or Ayutthaya or Kanchanaburi (or anywhere, really), please don’t ride the elephants. Doing so is supporting and putting money into the pockets of people who inflict great cruelty on these beautiful animals for profit.
How you can help
Having said all of that, there are some elephant sanctuaries that are legitimately safe places for rescued elephants who were previously used for logging and tourist attractions. These places do not put on shows, and most do not allow you to ride the elephants at all. Basically just do research. Look at their website, look on TripAdvisor, Google them, etc.
Ethical elephant organizations
There are three excellent organizations that I know of that not only do great work for elephant welfare, but also welcome volunteers:
Elephant Nature Park and BEES (Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary), both near Chiang Mai, are safe to visit. Also Elephant’s World in Kanchanaburi Province runs an excellent elephant rescue center, and the location is quite beautiful as well.
These organizations offer both one-day programs and overnight programs. They may be a bit expensive, but the price goes towards a very good cause: rescuing and rehabilitating previously abused elephants.
A typical day program usually involves walking with the elephants out in the countryside, bathing them, and lots and feeding them lots of delicious fruit and vegetables! It will be the highlight of any visit to Thailand, and you can be assured that you are doing your part to help these amazing animals.