Elephant Care Ethics

Learn More About the Issues that Elephants in Thailand Face and How We Can Help Them

Our Approach

Here in Southeast Asia, humans and elephants have been working side-by-side for 4000 years. At the beginning of the 20th century, Thailand’s forests teemed with a wild population of more than 300,000 elephants. In present-day Northern Thailand, there are no wild elephants because of habitat loss. We hope through our efforts, Thailand’s domesticated elephant population can help maintain genetic diversity and promote the survival of wild elephants in Thailand. If managed carefully, the tourist industry can ensure that large numbers of elephants will outlive cared for and protected for the foreseeable future.

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Ethical Captive Elephant Care

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Elephant Ethics Graphic

Elephant FAQ

No. In an ideal world, all elephants would be wild. However, Asian Elephants became domesticated thousands of years ago. The majority of elephants in Chiang Mai cannot return to the wild regardless, due to habitat loss and strict laws. Unlike in Africa, there is no place left in the wild for Asian Elephants in Thailand: They have livestock classification, so it’s illegal for them to roam freely in the jungle. If a company tells you that their elephants are free-range, please ask questions.

One of the reasons the elephant population has declined so drastically in the last twenty years is because elephants and mahouts could no longer earn a living. Mahouts could no longer afford to care for and feed their charges. This change resulted in street begging elephants and illegal, amphetamine-addicted logging elephants. We don’t want to go backward.

Through ethical elephant tourism, owners can provide a home and stable income for both the elephants and the Mahouts. Lack of land, human-elephant conflict, and poaching make it very dangerous for elephants to be in the wild. Even elephants in conservation centers and sanctuaries are not one-hundred percent free. With all of these problems, it is crucial to create the most humane environments possible for the captive elephants to live in so that they are protected and do not become extinct.

Yes. Work can be very stimulating for elephants, and studies have shown that working elephants live longer than those in zoos. We create a unique experience where guests can learn about elephants while interacting, playing, feeding, and bathing them. These are all stimulating but low-stress activities for the elephants.
For domestic elephants, our friends aren’t doing too badly. They are the offspring of domesticated Thai elephants— Not wild ones from Burma. The youngest were all conceived and born here, which promotes elephant conservation and indicates that they are comfortable and healthy. These elephants have elephant friends, a clean river to play and bathe in every day, a lush bamboo forest to sleep in, and Mahouts who love them.
Tourism is also important because it’s a critical factor in government decisions to take proactive measures to preserve elephants because it is vital to their economies. Domestic elephants play a valuable part in education and as ambassador animals on behalf of their wild cousins. We hope that after seeing these beautiful animals up close, meeting and learning about them, and watching them interact in a loving and protective family group, you will leave a friend of the elephants for life.

No. Metal chair rides are unsafe for elephants. These chairs, which are already very heavy, can carry up to three passengers, and put pressure on a vulnerable point of the elephant’s spine. Besides that, dirt and other debris can rub between the chair and the elephant’s skin, causing painful sores.

There is a lot of misinformation online about elephant anatomy and their spines. Whether or not riding is harmful depends on the practice. For female Asian elephant cows, their average weight is about 3 tons (6,000 pounds), so you would be roughly 2.5% of her weight. Sitting on her back alone will not hurt her. Scientific studies conclude that elephants in camps offering rides tend to experience less stress than those in an observation-only site.

However, chairs and saddles hurt an elephant if the padding is too thin or has stones and other debris beneath it. They also multiply the weight each elephant has to carry. Additionally, if the chairs are on the elephant all day, they can cause sores, and for the elephant to overheat. The chairs and padding need to stay dry so the elephant can’t swim in the river to cool down. See how riding an elephant can improve their health care here.

No. We care about wild elephant conservation. When you buy an elephant from an abusive situation, you reward the owner with money (about 60,000 USD ) to purchase new elephants and traffic them from the wild. We rent elephants to break this cycle.

There are only two ways you can safely contain an elephant: Steel enclosure or tethering. Steel enclosures can be expensive, making them unfeasible in Asian countries. The most common option in Asia is to tether the elephant with a large chain that fits loosely around the ankle. Small chains should not be used since tangle and pinch the skin, causing harm to an elephant. The use of ropes is highly discouraged since they will irritate and burn the elephant’s skin.

Yes. Elephants may be on a long chain, for instance, if their caretaker needs to take a break. There are only two ways to keep an elephant from wandering off: Tethering and steel enclosures. If someone tells you otherwise, be wary. A loose elephant can cause significant damage to property, crops, and human beings. The advantages of chains over other means of tethering are overwhelming. Chains, unlike rope or wire, are very unlikely to cause wounds. The chain is the most humane way to tether elephants and allows for the elephants to be moved to exercise and forage, much like we use a lead for domestic animals in the west, such as dogs and horses.

Yes. Bullhooks are a tool to keep people and elephants safe. Elephant caretakers have them on hand, but that does not mean that they use them. The Mahouts are responsible for protecting the lives of elephants as well as our guests and their children. All mahouts must carry a bullhook to try to control the elephant in emergency and life-threating situations.

Elephants are smart and gentle, but they are also wild animals and extremely strong. Do not sneak up behind them, tease them, make loud noises, or make sudden movements around them. They have a blind spot directly in front of them, so try to stand to the side so that they can see you well. The mahouts have received training to control the elephants and ensure everyone’s safety, so please listen to them around the elephants. And lastly, do not approach a young elephant without her mahout, as this can be stressful for them.

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