Does animal tourism hurt or help animals?
List: Animal-friendly Elephant Sanctuary Thailand
Animal-Friendly Elephant Sanctuary Thailand: But Which Park Is Really Animal-Friendly?
Which elephant park is animal friendly in Thailand?
If you didn't know, check out this list of elephant friendly parks in Asia for wildlife protection.
During our trip through Southeast Asia we wanted to visit an animal friendly elephant house in Thailand and that turned out to be much more difficult than expected. The range of elephant reception centers in Thailand is extremely large. On every corner of the street you will find a leaflet from an "animal-friendly" shelter where elephant riding is prohibited. This is often emphasized because in 2019 they are happy that (mainly) western tourists are no longer accepting this. But does that mean these shelters are doing what's best for the animals?
A few years ago we traveled through Cambodia for 3 weeks. During this trip we visited a great elephant project in Mondulkiri, the Elephant Valley Project. Here elephants are welcomed who had lived in captivity for years and had to work hard for their "boss". The project works closely with the local population. It's all about creating awareness and ultimately enabling people to give their elephant a life that every elephant deserves, a life of freedom.
Elephant-friendly day care center Thailand
A project like the Elephant Valley Project naturally costs a lot of money. The elephants have to be looked after and the people who work there are entitled to wages. To finance this, the project is open to visitors, but one thing you will immediately realize from the first moment, it is all about the elephants and not the visitors. This means absolutely NO contact with the animals, so neither wash nor feed.
It all sounds pretty strict, but in this project an elephant can be an elephant again. They roam freely in an area of 1,500 hectares of protected forest and can do whatever they want. Of course they are watched because they are not wild animals, often trauma, but everything happens at a reasonable distance. As a visitor, you can see how the animals move through the jungle, what they eat and how they bathe. You go with them, but as I said, always at a reasonable distance.
We were looking for a project like this one in Cambodia in Thailand. A project that focuses on animal welfare and that turned out to be not easy. The bottom line is that almost all projects in Thailand revolve around washing and feeding the animals by visitors. They emphasize that riding the animals is strictly forbidden, which is of course a good thing, but it's still about making visitors happy beyond animal welfare.
Washing and feeding the elephants doesn't hurt in the eyes of many people. But often these people don't realize that these elephants are just wild animals. A dangerous, unpredictable situation can suddenly arise in which you can injure yourself or fall. You don't want that, do you? What many people also don't know is that tuberculosis is a major problem in captive elephants and that it can be passed on to humans. A serious health risk if you encounter an elephant or if you get sprayed wet by an elephant. Something to definitely think about. Besides, who has to wash an elephant? An elephant can wash himself easily, but he doesn't need our help for that. Let an elephant just be an elephant!
Elephants wash Thailand
Who are you doing this for As a tourist or to see and help the elephants?
Elephant parks Thailand & Chiang Mai
But how do you know which elephant house is ethically responsible? That's the problem. I could no longer see the forest for the trees and had doubts about almost all parks. Each park calls itself a "sanctuary", an "ethical experience" or "environmentally friendly". In fact, such a name doesn't seem to say anything at all, it's more of a marketing ploy to appeal to more people.
Best elephant park in Chiang Mai
After our trip I met World Animal Protection. You acknowledge the problem. On their website, they have a very informative blog post with 6 tips for choosing a good elephant sanctuary. A must if you are traveling to Thailand and want to visit an elephant house. They also referred me to ChangChill, an elephant camp near Chiang Mai, which they, together with the travel industry, have turned into a 100% animal friendly shelter. So if you are looking for a responsible elephant home in Chiang Mai this is a place you can go with confidence. World Animal Welfare has also compiled a list of elephant-friendly shelters in Asia. There are several other animal places in Thailand on this list as well.
This article was written by Sigrid from MyTravelSecret.nl and I am also happy to help World Animal Protection spread knowledge about animal tourism and wildlife <3
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