Don’t leave your morals at home: The Ethical Elephant Experience

Choosing the right summer holiday activities

With summer coming to an end in a few weeks, it’s never to early to start planning for next years summer destination. Trips abroad, or even close ones can take a while to plan out especially when you have young kids in tow.

South East Asia is both a destination for backpackers on a budget hopping on one country to the next and families with young kids. The region has plenty to offer. From pristine white sand beaches, jungle trekking, exotic and very tasty cuisine as well as animal and nature related activities.

The region is also home to the Asian Elephants. It is estimated that there were once more than 350 species of elephants in the world. Today we only have two of them left – the Asian and the African species.

The Ethical Elephant Experience

Asian Elephants are present in 13 countries in Asia, including Thailand where between 2500 to 3200 wild elephants are found out of a total population that is crudely estimated between 40,000 and 50,000. The country is also home to an equally large domestic elephant population of between 3,000 and 4,000 animals, most of which are used in the tourism industry.

Elephants are a key attraction on Thailand, more so up north in Chiang Mai which is also a very popular tourist destination with over 60 operators of Elephant related activities.

The dark side of elephant tourism

A lot of these elephant tourist activities involve riding the elephant through the jungles and rivers. And this is an experience being paid for by a lot of tourists in Chiang Mai as it does have its appeal- being on top of a massive creature while taking in by the beautiful scenery.

What a lot don’t realise is that elephants are wild creatures and need to be tamed so tourists can get up close with them. The taming of these elephants are not the same as taming a wild horse- far from it. Elephants are usually taken when young, beaten and abused into submission. Often starved, deprived of sleep and mistreated in every possible way by their handlers until their spirit breaks. They even have a term for it called phajaan, or “the crush”.

The elephant riding activities will have some of these elephants in bull hooks to have some control on the elephant while being ridden. Riding them itself puts a lot of strain on their spine. You’ll want to skip this activity entirely.

There are other options to get an ethical elephant experience.

Elephant Sanctuaries and Nature Parks

There are a handful of operators in Chiang Mai that advertise as being ethical camps but always do your own research and read reviews prior to booking a trip. The Sanctuary we decided to go with (after much research on blogs, trip advisor and facebook stalking) was Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. And we couldn’t have chosen a better one to spend a whole day with these magnificent creatures.


ethical elephant experience

After a short 15 minutes of walking across a stream and up the mountains, we were greeted by these elephants ready to bathed and fed. We were also lucky enough to meet a 4week old baby elephant.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project located approximately 60km from the city of Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. Founded in July 2014, it is a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill-tribes and Chiang Mai locals who were concerned about the welfare of elephants in Thailand.

The operators do not allow any riding or perform any elephant tricks. The afternoon long experience was just to feed the elephants bananas, sugar cane and other local fruits that they were very much gently took from our hands… and pockets! After meeting and feeding the elephants, the tour guides gave us a bit of background of these animals. All of elephants are rescued elephants from different parts of the region. So these are still domesticated elephants that were at one time used for manual labor and/or as tourist attractions in horrible living conditions.

The elephants look forward to their daily mud bath, making their own way down a hill where 2 mud pits are located.

The elephants look forward to their daily mud bath, making their own way down a hill where 2 mud pits are located.

It is Elephant Jungle’s mission to provide as many elephants as possible with the good health, freedom, and happiness they truly deserve. They use their progressive and ethically responsible approach to elephant eco-tourism as a platform to raise awareness and educate people from Thailand and around the world about elephant care and the plight of the Asian elephant.

ethical elephant experience

After a thorough mud bath, we all proceed to walk further down a hill where a stream is located to wash off all the mud.

All fees and donations collected by Elephant Jungle goes to providing these elephants with food, shelter and some medical treatments. It also goes to rescuing more of these endangered species.

ethical elephant experience

A 4 week old baby elephant at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai Thailand.

Just like choosing organic clothing and fair trade brands, we should be mindful of how we choose to spend our holiday activities when in different parts of the globe, so don’t leave your morals at home and choose to be an ethical traveler.

Related articles


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.