Since the elephant is the national animal of Thailand, elephant tourism is a key factor in the Thai tourism industry. Due to a growing awareness of the cruelty and the abuse that many elephants have to bear, more and more tourists are looking for an animal-friendly alternative. However, while this is a positive trend, there is also the risk of programmes that are not as ethical as you would expect it to be. Therefore, I did some research on elephant programmes in Thailand that are known to benefit both elephants, communities and the ecotourism industry.
Elephant Nature Park, northern Thailand
The Chiang Mai area is famous for its elephant tourism, both cruel attractions as well as a growing range of ethical programmes. Elephant Nature Park and its Save Elephant Foundation have been the key driver in the establishment of these programmes. The park is a sanctuary that succeeded in rescuing dozens of distressed elephants from all over Thailand. Currently, ENP is home to a herd of over 70 elephants.
A wide range of day-trips is available at the park, as well as an overnight option. Besides, the ENP initiated several other ethical elephant projects at independent camps near to the sanctuary, such as Pamper a Pachyderm. The aim of these programs is to walk the elephants instead of riding them, enabling them to develop and show off natural behaviour. Find the day-trip that appeals to you most at the ENP website.
Boon Lott’s Elphant Sanctuary (BLES), northern Thailand
When Katherine Connor visited Thailand during a career break, she felt in love with a baby elephant named Boon Lott. His death resulted into the establishment of Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, a sanctuary where the elephants can roam freely within 500 acres of forested land. Only 6 guests per day are allowed at the park which benefits both the elephants and the visitors. Guests share in all aspects of the care taking, including feeding and walking. Make sure to book far in advance as BLES is typically booked 6 months to 1 year ahead.
Friends of the Asian Elephant, northern Thailand
Friends of the Asian Elephant is a foundation that runs an elephant hospital in the north of Thailand. The hospital aims to treat and care for weak, sick and injured elephants that would otherwise have nowhere to go, endure unnecessary suffering or perhaps even die. The hospital is open for visitors during the day. However keep in mind that, like any other hospital, this is a place for healing and rest for the patients and that chains are being used to secure the elephants recovery. Nonetheless, visitors and donations are very welcome to support the important work of this hospital.
The Elephant Refuge and Education Center, southwest of Thailand
The Elephant Refuge and Education center is part of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. The center is located 160 kilometres southwest of Bangkok and is home to a herd of about twenty elephants, all coming from an abusive past. What makes this project unique is the fact that no elephant is chained up, neither during the day or at night. Apart from the volunteering programme, the center offers a full-day experience as an eco- and animal friendly alternative for tourists residing in this region. As the WFFT runs a Wildlife Rescue Center, visitors also have the opportunity to observe the feeding of the other 450+ wild animals that live at the sanctuary.
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, southern Thailand
As the Phuket Island attract millions of tourist annually, many unethical elephant attractions are located at the island. The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is a pioneer in ethical elephant tourism in this region, established in collaboration with the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. It is a retirement home for sick, injured, and old elephants who have worked an exhausting life in the logging and tourism industries. The park offers a half-day visit to the park, providing you the chance to learn more about the sanctuary and its inhabitants in one morning. Make sure to book at the website in advance.