On a recent trip to Thailand I visited the Elephant Nature Park near Chang Mai that is rescuing mistreated elephants and re-homing them on a large property where they get to eat, bathe in the river and form new family groups in which to live and socialise.
There are no elephant rides available for visitors. Instead guests can help to feed, water and wash the elephants.
As an advocate of animal rights, I was happy to see the elephants enjoying a relatively natural environment, where they display many of the traits witnessed in the wild – such as taking mud bathes after their wash and throwing dirt over themselves to protect against the sun and insects.
There were no art shows or circus acts and the elephants seemed comfortable to interact with the tourists – especially when there was watermelon on offer 🙂
To me, this was more fulfilling than if I had paid for an elephant ride – and I left feeling comfortable with having supported a worthy cause.
Before I went to the Elephant Nature Park I had promised myself that I wouldn’t ride an elephant that was fitted with a seat, as these are said to cause the animal discomfort. Riding bareback is understandably much more humane.
Another issue that concerned me is the use of baby elephants in cities that beg food from tourists. This is now illegal in the major cities in Thailand, but still goes on at times. The elephants are often seen swaying from side to side – a sign of stress likely caused by the loud, bright, busy environment they are forced to work in.
If you see this on your travels you can contact the local police. Even if no-one is prosecuted, you are making it clear that you don’t agree with animals being used in this way. If tourists refuse to support these practices, owners will be forced to find other means to make money.