Finding an Ethical Elephant Experience in Thailand


Elephants are some of the world’s most intelligent animals, we know they have deep social bonds, incredible memories and they can learn, mimic, play and show compassion, humor and grief.  It is perhaps these human-like qualities that so often draws us to them and fascinates us and makes elephant safaris so popular.  However, it is also these very qualities that makes it even more important how they are treated and that they are looked after responsibly and ethically.

 Asian Elephants are an endangered species - at the turn of the last century there were about 100,000 Asian elephants around the world, now there are only an estimated 40,000 – 47,000, and this number is declining at around 3 % per year.  Thailand is home to about three thousand of these wonderful pachyderms and the population is declining at a rapid rate due to loss of habitat.

Elephants are greatly respected in Thailand and extremely important to its’ society.  The majority of the elephants are in captivity as the population has worked with them for centuries. They have been used to plough rice fields instead of buffalos and more recently used in the logging industry.

However, in 1989 Thailand introduced a law to ban logging, which is great news for the rainforest but has meant that elephants are now no longer needed for this job and most of their habitat has been destroyed.

As elephants easily consume about 200kg of food per day, taking care of these gentle giants is not an easy task – and certainly not a cheap one either. This has meant that Elephants have either been used for illegal logging, or worse have become malnourished as their handlers can’t afford to feed them enough. However, today tourism can offer a sustainable life for these domestic elephants in Thailand. If run well and the animals are cared for properly it offers a sustainable income for both Elephant and Mahout (the elephant caretaker).

Elephant Hills

The Elephant Hills is one of the few destinations that offers an ethical and sustainable tourist solution.  Set up as luxury tented jungle camps, they combine the camp idea of African national parks with the Thai tropical forest environment.  The two camps, The Elephant Camp and the floating Rainforest Camp, are both situated in Khao Sok, part of Southern Thailand’s largest stretch of primary Rainforest and part of the oldest rainforest area in the world.  Despite being tucked away, these camps are easily reachable from popular tourist beach destinations like Phuket, Khao Lak, Khanom, Krabi and even Koh Samui.

At either of the Elephant Hills camps guests can experience how unique these animals really are and understand a little of their situation in Thailand. Due to ethical reasons, they do not offer elephant riding, but have taken a more responsible approach.  Instead, guests can get up close and interact with the elephants.  They can watch them enjoy a bath in their big elephant mud pool, and then scrub the gentle giants with coconut fibres to give them a good clean before preparing and feeding them one of their daily meals. Afterwards the elephants are released back into their large free roaming pen where guests can watch them play, interact and graze in their natural environment.  This extraordinary encounter with their 12 gentle giants at Elephant Hills has won them multiple awards for animal welfare already.

Elephants that let people ride on their backs will have been severely mistreated and tortured as babies to make them do this.  So, even if you have always wanted to ride an elephant, enjoy the unique experience of feeding these intelligent creatures and interacting with them in a responsible way instead.

Elephant Hills offers 2-4 day luxury adventure tours in and around stunningly beautiful Khao Sok National Park in Southern Thailand. As well as the unique Elephant Experience when you will wash, feed and interact with these magnificent creatures you will also be able to paddle down rivers in a canoe, explore mangrove swamps and jungle lakes full of limestone formations, relax at deserted beaches, visit local markets and discover primary rainforest on foot!

Elephant Hills is best enjoyed as part of a Thailand Multi Centre Holiday, click the link and browse through our itineraries to find the one that suits you.


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