On the second full day we were in Chiang Mai we had booked a day with Elephant Nature Park to go look after elephants for the day.
Thailand has a poor reputation with tourism and animals such as elephants and tigers in particular and generally any excursions that offer elephant riding, painting, tricks or anything similar should be avoided as well as anything that involves a tiger. Elephants do not paint or do tricks as a normal behaviour and the amount of cruelty and essentially torture that is involved to bend them to human submission should most definitely be outlawed. Riding an elephant is also cruel as the seat is an incredibly heavy metal structure and the animals get worked long hours in the gruelling heat. As for tigers, if they were behaving naturally, there is no way you can get anywhere near them for a picture without coming away with severe injuries. Tigers must be drugged off their faces in order for you to be able to do what they offer. Human entertainment seems a pretty poor reason for these beautiful creatures to be so heavily sedated on a daily basis, unable to live a proper life. It’s like the Chinese tourists I observed yesterday at a waterfall in Pai who were repeatedly throwing rocks into a pond trying scare the frog that was making regular croaks to make an appearance. These animals do not exist for your mere entertainment. They are sentient creatures of their own right. If you’re against human trafficking and human abuse, then consider the methods that are involved in order to make these ventures possible.
Rant over. Saying all that, eco-tourism is booming in Chiang Mai with lots of elephant “sanctuaries” who provide customers with a day feeding, “walking” and bathing elephants. Some of them offer riding without seats (although I’m undecided how I feel about this). Even if the owners of these establishments might be jumping on the bandwagon as opposed to doing it for the animal’s rights, it’s still a step in a better direction.
We ended up booking a day with Elephant Nature Park who, after extensive research, is highly recommended by lots of travel media publishers as well as won lots of awards on its work on rescuing elephants from commercial exploits (like riding, logging and performing). The single day excursions at their parks were all full up when we booked three days before we went. But they have plenty of side projects within the Karen villages where they involve the locals to look after rescued elephants which is good for the village giving them good stable income as well as providing lots of space and care for the elephants. We went to one of these side projects and it was easy to see that the three elephants there were well looked after. They were free to roam and were happy with their flappy ears as we fed and bathed them. The day we had didn’t involve any bare back riding which I preferred anyway as I have no desire to ride on such a magnificent creature.
So if you are around in Thailand and are looking for an elephant excursion, do do your research and work out which ones operate without abusing the animals.