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.




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. 



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.


  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.


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