Is Elephant Tourism Ethical?
Why it’s wrong
The practice involves separating baby elephants from their mothers, being placed in a cage or holding pen, starved, and beaten by locals until the baby elephant’s spirit is broken, and it no longer needs or recognizes its own mother. Once this has taken place the elephant is more submissive to the demands of their mahout; armed with a bull hook, a wood stick with a metal hook on the end, mahouts will use these on elephants as punishment, sometimes jabbing them in the eye and other sensitive areas of the body.
While most tourists who participate in elephant rides may not see the mahout use the bull hook, it will be placed in his hand, resting on the top of the elephant’s head.
Responsible elephant tourism
Lek Chailert from Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand has been fighting for elephant rights for over twenty years, and it is through her hard work that other camps are following suit and putting their bull hooks away and removing the saddles from the backs of their elephants.
It can be hard, as a traveller, to know which elephant experiences are ethical; ask yourself, is this natural behaviour for an elephant? Do elephants normally perform circus acts, or paint, or pick up humans and take them wherever they want to go?
How to tell if a place is unethical
- Mahouts carry bull hooks
- The camp offers elephant rides
- The camp has a ‘circus’ or elephant painting
- Elephants have chains around their ankles and neck
Why are unethical places cheaper?
In camps like Elephant Nature Park the focus is on the elephants, their well being and happiness. Each elephant is cared for and well fed; medical attention is provided to each one – they have their own elephant clinic in the park; during the day the elephants are free to roam wherever they wish, there are no chains or bull hooks; at night they are placed in enclosures that are safe, spacious, and keep family groups together.
At Elephant Nature Park there are so many stories about the love of a mahout, and the relationship he has established with his elephant, without having to carry or use a bull hook; these interactions are something visitors see during their day trip visit, and volunteers witness it over and over again when they stay for a week, two weeks, a month, or even longer.
Supporting ethical elephant camps and sanctuaries is often more expensive, but it’s money well spent because you’re not lining someone’s pocket with cold hard cash, you are contributing to the love and care of an animal who, after years of oppression and pain, is now free and away from danger. You’re giving these elephants a happy life.
Read more about:
- When Elephants Attack
- Chasing Elephants and Decoding Dung: On Safari in Kruger National Park
- Waist High in an Elephant Bath: Uganda
Or, book your flights to Thailand