Why Visit an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai?
Before travelling to Thailand, an elephant encounter had long been on my bucket list. I am sure it is for many of you reading this too. For me, visiting animals in an ethical way has always been a priority, so this was high on my list of requirements when researching a place to experience elephants.
I did not, however, know the extent of the dark truth that lies behind the many tourist attractions that are so readily available.
As a result of reading this I hope you become more aware of the dangers surrounding this industry, and that you are able to make an ethical choice when visiting elephants in Thailand.
Elephants roaming freely in the sanctuary…
An Animal of Importance
Elephants are everywhere to be seen in Thailand, and across the country have long been held in high importance. As the national animal of Thailand, they decorate everything from temples to clothing and souvenirs.
Legend has it that Queen Maya, the mother of the Buddha, could only conceive after a dream where she had an encounter with a white elephant. Ever since elephants have long been respected in Buddhism, and are considered as a symbol of power and royalty in Thai culture.
Despite the high status elephants hold, very little has been done to protect these creatures from harm. For hundreds of years, elephants were used in the logging industry as a way of moving trees. However ‘useful’ this might have been, many elephants have been injured or killed as a result. This article is one example of the damage logging can cause elephants.
Elephants everywhere at the Sunday night walking market…
Mistreatment of Elephants
When logging became illegal in 1989, many mahouts (elephant trainers) had to find new ways to make a living. As a result, many elephants were trained to perform ‘amazing’ acts in circus’ and entertainment shows for the pleasure of humans. Painting pictures, spinning on one leg and football tricks are just a few of these unnatural acts. In addition, many elephant camps were set up, offering elephant rides and elephant begging on the street became common.
All of the above are not indicative of natural elephant behaviour, so it begs the question, how do you train an elephant to do that?!
The answer is harrowing.
Many baby elephants are poached from their mothers at a young age and many wild elephants become a victim of ‘crushing’, an incredibly abusive procedure carried out by mahouts in order to domesticate these elephants. After this process, which intends to crush the elephants spirit, mahouts control their elephants with hooks, consistently showing the elephant this throughout their performances or rides.
And this is just the surface, and you can find out more about the mistreatment here.
Feeding the elephants all the bananas!…
Thankfully, across Thailand there are a number of elephant sanctuaries, providing a safe environment for many animals that have been previously abused.
Elephant Nature park (ENP) is an incredible sanctuary in Chiang Mai. Since it’s opening in 1996, ENP has rescued and provided a caring home for over 70 elephants, and is also responsible for homing hundreds of stray and injured dogs and cats. ENP is committed to improving the lives of animals and therefore provide valuable support for other organisations.
At ENP, there are no hooks and chains. Just an inspirational amount of love and care and endless hard work from the volunteers goes towards supporting these mistreated animals, many with severe psychological or physical issues as a result of their past. The elephants are free to live their lives in the most natural way, roaming freely in the countryside that ENP offers, and when possible, are realised back into the wild, although sadly this is difficult to achieve.
Kabu, an elephant rescued from logging, who still has injuries…
My visit to an Elephant Sanctuary Chiang Mai
I recently spent a day at Elephant Nature Park and had the most incredible day. It was surely magical to see the elephants living so freely in a place they could trust.
We spent the day feeding them endless bananas and watermelons (they eat more fruit than me!), washing them in the river and observing them enjoying their lives as elephants should, mainly rolling in the mud! As we met each elephant, we learned of their incredible rescue stories, ENP really has given these elephants a second chance.
Please, please, please if you visit Thailand never pay to ride an elephant or pay to see an elephant perform anything that is not natural. We need to ensure this abuse comes to an end!
Meeting the rescued elephants…
Should you Visit an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai?
If you are interested in supporting an elephant sanctuary and the amazing work they are doing, I highly recommend visiting the Elephant Nature Park.
It is located just outside of Chiang Mai, and they provide a pick up and drop of service free included within your visit ticket.
Visit options :
Day Visit: 2,500 THB
Overnight Visit (2 days, 1 night): 5,800 THB
Volunteer Program (7 days): 12,000 THB
All profit goes towards ENP’s rescue and conservation initiatives.
Make sure you book in advance because they are always fully booked.
You can do this at www.elephantnaturepark.org
Thank you for reading,
The Healthy Backpacker x
Washing the elephants in the river…