Elephants are beautiful and magnificent creatures that a lot of people want to encounter on a trip to Asia or Africa! When it's your first time being exposed to animal tourism like this, you might not be able to tell the difference between what is ethical vs. unethical.
For me, I went to Thailand for the first time in 2016 and "riding an elephant" was on the top of my to-do list because I simply had no idea how unethical it was. It wasn't until the local Thai lady who owned my hostel explained everything to me, that I just felt appalled that I even wanted to do such a thing. She then referred me to going to an elephant sanctuary instead and I had the time of my life.
I don't claim to be an expert on animal tourism or anything like that, but I do think it's important to spread the knowledge of ethical animal experiences! Especially when I had no idea about these things when I first started traveling. So here are 3 do's and don'ts of elephant tourism:
✔ Research the place you want to visit and check reviews about possible animal welfare issues. Make sure the research/reviews state that the animals are well taken care of and that there is no riding/performances.
✔ Visit only legitimate sanctuaries and venues where elephants are not chained/beaten, and there is plenty of space for the elephants to do their normal, daily routines. These venues should just be helping the elephants live their normal life without restrictions of land, diet, or socializing with other elephants.
✔ Walk with elephants in their natural habitat. Again, you should never be disrupting the elephant's normal routines. Tourists should just be observing or participating in things that the elephant already does on a daily basis, without being forced.
✗ Never ride elephants. Animals are often abused into being trained to carry humans, not to mention the fact that elephants are not meant to carry things on their back. Although they may seem big and strong, carrying humans on their back can cause them pain overtime, and eventually even lead to a spinal injury.
✗ Pay for services “offered” by elephants like massages, paintings, drinking beer, silly performances or street begging. Again, they are often abused in order to be trained to do something that they don't naturally do.
✗ Visit venues where baby elephants are used for photo props or are separated from their mothers. If the baby and mama are not together, it's very likely that this baby was taken away from their herd & it will never be reunited with them.
Ethical Elephant Orphanages to Visit Around the World:
In general, the words "sanctuary," "orphanage," "park," or "camp" are used to describe a place for a home for elephants that have been rescued or retired from the riding, logging, street begging and/or circus industries. These places provide medical attention, food, water and space for them to live out their lives. Unfortunately, these elephants may never return to their natural habitats due to ongoing medical issues, lack of availability of their natural habitat, or elephant ownership. Here are some ethical elephant facilities to visit around the world:
Amboseli National Park, Kenya
David Sheldrick Orphanage, Nairobi
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai. Thailand
Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Kruger National Park, South Africa
Nagarhole National Park, India
Nairobi National Park, Nairobi
Samui Elephant Sanctuary, Koh Samui, Thailand
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka
Yala National Park, Sri Lanka
These resources will guide you and give you more information about ethical elephant tourism:
World-Renowned Elephant Welfare Organizations
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