The Ethical Way to Encounter Elephants in Chiang Mai
As a travel *influencer* I feel a degree of social responsibility when it comes to topics about ethical and eco-friendly tourism. I only want to promote activities and organisations that are ethical, so the topic of elephants in Chiang Mai is very close to my heart.
Elephants are a deep-rooted part of the Thai culture and they have a special spiritual significance to Buddhism, as well as Hinduism. They have played a big part in the country’s manual labour for centuries, so they’ve always been seen as working animals in Thailand. But it wasn’t until the tourists began to arrive that they suddenly became an attraction. Getting to visit elephants in Chiang Mai is now one of the city’s biggest draws but this has left the elephants vulnerable to mistreatment, all for the sake of profit margins. If you hope to encounter these gentle giants whilst in Thailand, the good news is that you still can. But it’s important that you do your research to find an ethical and cruelty-free organisation to visit them with. I hope you all agree with me that…
Elephants should not be ridden or made to perform in any way
Just like dancing bears and animals at the circus, I think elephant rides should now be regarded as out-dated and cruel. But sadly, there are still some places in Thailand that offer them. If you’re weighing up your options about where to visit elephants in Chiang Mai, let this be the first warning sign.
Fortunately, there are some wonderful places in Chiang Mai (and wider Thailand) that make it possible to visit elephants in a non-invasive way. I was lucky enough to visit one of them during my recent trip to Thailand. The Thai Elephant Care Centre is located in Mae Rim, about 45 minutes outside of Chiang Mai. It’s a sanctuary for elderly elephants to relax and enjoy life without having to work, either by carrying tourists or in manual labour. Sadly, a life of captivity means that they’re no longer able to look after themselves in the wild. But the Thai Elephant Care Centre does everything it can to ensure the elephants have the best possible quality of life in their later years.
There are 12 resident elephants at the centre in total, who are cared for by an impressive team of 27 staff, including the mahoots (elephant owners) who have with the elephants for much of their lives. The sanctuary provides work for the mahoots so that they can still earn a living and be with their elephants even though the elephants are elderly. There is also a veterinary team who are always on hand to provide the best health care to the elephants.
The Thai Elephant Care centre welcomes a small number of visitors each day, who are taught how the elephants are cared for and what the work force do on a daily basis. We did the full day programme at the Thai Elephant Care Centre which included feeding the elephants, preparing grinded grass elephant feed and making herbal medicine to aid good digestion. These are all things that the team at the care centre have to do on a daily basis so it felt great to help out in caring for these beautiful creatures.
The day ended by watching two of the elephants take a mudbath and helping them to bathe in the river. The elephants don’t get to do this every day so for them it’s a real treat and it was so heart-warming to see how much they were enjoying themselves. Whatever treatment their captivity may have brought in their earlier life, these elephants are now cared for and at peace.
The whole experience was both humbling and enriching and seeing the great work that the Thai Elephant Care Centre does really restored my faith in Thailand’s elephant tourism. If all organisations were like this then the future for elephants in Thailand would be happy, stress-free and sustainable.
Please be sure to do your research before choosing where to visit Elephants in Chiang Mai. The Thai Elephant Care Centre is a great option if you’re visiting Chiang Mai, but there are also other reputable organisations.
What is your experience of visiting or interacting with Elephants in Chiang Mai? I’d love you to help me spread the word about ethical elephant tourism in Thailand. If you’ve enjoyed this post or have any thoughts, please leave a comment in the box below x
My trip to Thailand was part of a press trip with Qatar Airways and Birmingham Airport to celebrate the new flight path from Birmingham Airport to Chiang Mai Airport. All images, opinions and words are my own.