Thailand’s elephants

Undoubtedly the most beautiful experience I had while being in Thailand was spending one day with the elephants. I learnt many things about them from our guide and from the locals taking care of them. The first thing which we were told is that we were not going to ride the elephants and that we shouldn’t ever do it.

All over the world the elephants were exploited long enough.

The shrinking natural habitats make it difficult for wild elephants to reproduce and survive. One example is Sri Lanka, famous for its breathtaking landscapes and luxurious resorts, where the elephants’ numbers are declining fast due to the development of human establishments.

In Thailand were nearly 100.000 domestic elephants used by the locals. Nowadays only 4.000 are still alive and are used in various touristic activities like trekking, painting and circus. Saving these elephants is not an easy task.

An elephants eats around 350 kilograms of food per day, which require a lot of logistics and money. There aren’t enough people to handle this. The Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai currently hosts more than 80 domestic elephants and has many other projects to protect other elephants. Some are blind, some are permanently hurt, others are mentally ill as they have been used for circus, for street begging and for carrying people on their backs. Plus they have been hunted for their ivory horns.

Solving the problem of rescuing all the domestic elephants is not easy because this is a socioeconomic human problem.

At first Thais caught wild elephants and used them to work the lands in order to survive. Over the time, many locals lost the ownership of the lands and continued working for landlords, using their own elephants or rented ones. Some of them even borrowed money from banks to buy elephants. But working the land using animals became non-productive, inefficient. Therefore many poor Thais were unable to survive and started looking for other ways to make money using the asset they had: the family elephant.

In Thailand domestic elephants are currently used in tourist activities and in street begging. These are two ways people are able to make some money and survive. One domestic elephant is worth $2000 or more.

So, assuming an association has $2000 and enough people to collect all the grass needed (350 kg) to feed the elephant, the owner won’t sell it because it is its only means to survive. And because probably it has a much higher bank loan. 

The best way to spend your money on elephants is to visit them in a park or in the natural habitat.

I paid THB2500 (approx. USD77) to spend a day with them, feed them, wash them and observe them doing their daily activities. The elephants were not forced to perform for the group and the guide and locals insisted that we do not disturb or threaten the animals in any way. We treated them nice.

One can spend the same amount of money to ride elephants in the mountains or on the beach. Don’t. Don’t give money to or buy sugarcane from people begging on the streets with elephants. It’s not good for the animals in the long run. And it’s illegal.

The proper way to help the elephants and their owners is to support the oness which decided not to hurt their animals anymore and to include them in projects similar to the one we visited. More and more owners are doing this. In return, they make some money and the elephants are treated well.

The best thing you can do is give some of your money for the well being of the animals and enjoy the privilege of being able to spend a few hours with them and observe them.

The elephants are very sensible creatures.

Their big feet are sensible to movement. I witnessed how when we stood still, the animals were relaxed. But when I made a step, immediately the elephant noticed. Imagine what this animal feels while being in a city with thousands of people around, cars, subways, scooters. Anxiety and fear.

Their skin is sensible, too. They wake up in the morning, at 3AM, and eat until noon. When the sun is burning their skin, they take a bath in the river to cool down, then they cover up with mud. Keeping them on a beach is not a good idea and is hurting them.

If you think this is not okay, you should know that pain is used to make a wild elephant obey to humans. He is chained, starved, beaten and poked in the eye with a spear. That’s why some of them go blind. Now this is horrible. Then tourists ride them and post pictures on Instagram.

I recommend you to watch the documentary When elephants were young.

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