Ethical Elephant Camps

Elephants are some of my favorite animals in the world- they are intelligent, kind, and beautiful to see in person. Thailand is well-known for its elephant camps and parks, and it is important to make ethical choices when choosing which park to support.

When I was 19, I did a two-week volunteer program with Go Differently in Pattaya, Thailand. The volunteer program was a mahout training course where I was placed with a mahout and his elephant, whose name was Noi. Her mahout, Pon, loved her very much and never used any kind of excessive force with her. I was taught to bathe, wash and feed Noi.

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Pon was very proud of me when I learned to climb on Noi without assistance. It’s basically a three-step process of going from knee to thigh to back, and using your arm strength to lift yourself up. Pon spoke  very little English, but I could tell he was proud to have a slightly agile volunteer. Him and the other mahouts would frequently imitate the other two women trying to mount their elephants.

I didn’t give Pon any sense of pride with my food gathering skills though. At 4am, Pon took me on his motorbike to collect food for the elephants. Pon assumed I was capable enough to hack down some leaves while he went further off into the jungle. Needless to say, I was very bad at handling the knife, and Pon came running back to me, motioning that I was going to impale myself. I was put on strict motorbike watching duty from that point on.

I am happy I was able to experience a mahout training program, but when I came back to Thailand, I chose to support a place that did not give elephant rides using the basket carrier.  Although I never personally sat in one, Noi gave many rides a day in the basket. Although there are places that treat elephants much, much worse, I still chose to go a different route.

If you choose to go to an elephant camp in Thailand, please do research before you go! I don’t believe in supporting any place that has elephants do ‘tricks’ such as painting or playing soccer. While driving through the outskirts of Chiang Mai on my motorbike, I have passed by a nearby circus that performed these shows, and I can only imagine the cruelty that took place to get these animals to comply in performing these tricks.

During my time in Chiang Mai, I have visited two camps- Thai Elephant Home and Elephant Nature Park. Thai Elephant Home allows riding on the back without a basket, where the Elephant Nature Park only allows bathing and feeding of the elephants. Elephant Nature Park also runs a volunteer program, where you can stay at the park for longer periods of time. Both are reputable places and from what I saw, treated the elephants with respect and love. 


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7 thoughts

  1. I just had a really disturbing experience at the Mae Sa Elephant camp in Chiang Mai. We’d heard great things about how good they were and how responsibly they treated the elephants, but I was in for a rude shock. It’s so difficult to know until you check it out though hey.

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  2. How far in advance did you have to reserve your spot at ENP?
    I’d like to either do the full day visit or two-day during my trip in late September, but haven’t made a decision yet. I am worried that I may lose my spot if I don’t book soon.
    Thanks!

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