Elephant tourism

Five of the best ethical elephant venues to visit

This guest post is written by World Animal Protection to highlight elephant tourism. 

Everybody loves elephants, and this year’s World Elephant Day on 12th August may tempt you to book a trip to see these majestic creatures in the flesh especially if you are planning to solo travel in Asia.

Riding an elephant is one of the most popular tourist activities in Asia. Our damning report, reveals that more than three quarters of nearly 3,000 elephants used for tourist entertainment in Asia are kept in severely-cruel conditions.

We investigated conditions endured by 2,923 elephants at tourist venues in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Laos and Cambodia, and found that 77% of them were treated appallingly. Our research shows that venues that are forcing elephants to have direct contact with tourists are the cruellest.

This can include riding, washing experiences and of course performing in shows. Elephants are wild animals and pain is often used to keep them under control at these venues. Elephants used in tourism will also have been put through ‘the crush’ to break their spirit, which includes sleep deprivation and the use of pain.

Conditions in Thailand proved most concerning, with almost twice the number of elephants used for tourism there than all the other Asian countries combined.

Our research also found that several venues in Thailand cater to thousands of visitors daily, generating estimated profits of tens of thousands of dollars per month from exploiting Asian elephants – an endangered species.

When not giving rides or performing, elephants at tourist attractions are typically kept chained day and night. Most of the time the chains measure less than 3 metres.

These majestic, wild animals are also fed poor diets and receive limited veterinary care. They are frequently kept on concrete floors in stressful locations near loud music, roads, or noisy visitor groups.

Elephant tourism

Best Ethical Elephant Venues

It is difficult to tell which venues are good for elephants. To help you avoid these places we’ve compiled a list of five of the best ethical elephant venues to visit, based on extensive research that we carried out last year:

MandaLao Elephant Conservation (Laos)

Experience an intimate non-riding experience focused on education and elephant welfare. Walk in the jungle with rescued elephants and learn how they communicate with people.

Elephant Valley (Thailand)

This Chiang Rai sanctuary provides 40 acres of lush habitat for the six resident elephants to live independently and behave naturally in a stress-free environment.

Mahouts Elephant Foundation’s Walking with Elephants (Thailand)

Observe elephants in their natural environment, foraging for food, wallowing in mud and wrestling and playing. Camp with the Karen Hill Tribe (indigenous tribal people) and experience elephants at a safe and respectful distance.

BLES – Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)

BLES is a safe haven for abused elephants that have been rescued from situations of daily brutality and distress such as they experience when forced to carry out elephant rides and entertain tourists.  Visitors can accompany the 14 resident elephants on walks, gather food for them and camp in the jungle.

Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge (Nepal)

Experience daily Nepalese village life and meet the 14 resident domestic elephants. Follow them to the grasslands where their keepers (mahouts) cut and collect grass to feed them and accompany them on a walk in the jungle.

Elephant tourism

Raising Awareness

Most tourists sign up for experiences with elephants because they love wild animals and don’t know about the cruelty behind the rides, tricks and photo opportunities. If people knew the facts, then they wouldn’t participate in cruel elephant activities.

The best place to see an elephant is in the wild or, at a genuine elephant sanctuary. If you would like to volunteer with elephants in Thailand then check out our Elephant Adventure Trek. Or find out more about our Wildlife. Not Entertainers campaign.