Ethical Elephant Encounters

Ethical Elephant Encounters cover

Wouldn’t you want to experience a more Ethical Elephant Experience in Thailand?

 Here we give you some ways in which you can.

When you think of Thailand, the first thing that springs to mind (after red curry of course) are Elephants.  Thailand’s elephant tourism has rapidly increased over the years and lately for all the wrong reasons.  Whilst many tourists are unaware of the ethics behind this tourist trade, more and more are becoming aware of the darker side, the abuse that goes on and the irresponsible facilities caring for the elephants. 

Everyone who visits Thailand has thought of sitting upon these huge mammals weighing an incredible 4 ton, whilst navigating their way through unspoiled jungles, but some fail to see that it is just another profitable business there to entertain tourists.

I’m not going to lie, we naively rode on Elephants almost 10 years ago when we first came to Thailand and I’m sure the millions who’ve came and gone have done the same.  But the truth behind this industry is coming to light and tourists coming to Thailand should be more aware of the disturbing facts associated with a simple Elephant Ride.

Elephant Walking

The shocking secrets surrounding Unethical Elephant Tourism

A lot of people who ride the Elephants, do so, take a picture and never think of it again.  But here are some truthful facts that you maybe didn’t know about their treatment:

  • No shade from the hot Sun: The endangered Asian Elephants need regular bathing time in mud and dirt to use as a protective layer from the sun.  The reality is that they are often required to work in the heat all day, rarely getting shade from the sun.


  • Manual Labour: Elephants are still seen to this day as modes of transport according to government regulations.  It’s not surprising that this type of behaviour still occurs in the country when there are no rules in place to prevent it.  But time is money and therefore tour groups and elephant facilities use elephants for tourist entertainment, riding and trekking.  This type of labour without specific safety requirements can cause long-term damage for the animals whose spines are not build to carry the weight of humans over long periods of time.


  • Treatment/Abuse: Elephant Mahouts usually spend all day with the Elephants and naturally form a bond. But for man to feel safe against these 5-tonne animals there needs to be specific training.  Often there is very little training required and the use of a metal instrument (referred to as ‘the hook’) is used instead to steer, communicate or chastise the animals.  In some cases the hook is used to protect the animal but more often than not a mahout will abuse his powers, using the hook as an instrument of abuse to gain control over the elephant.


  • Ivory Killings: In Thailand, the illegal trade of live Elephants and Ivory still flourishes. The amount of Ivory seen openly for sale has decreased substantially since 2001, but Thailand still to this day has one of the most active Ivory industries anywhere in the world. For this reason, the Asian Elephant is now an endangered species.


  • Crushing their Spirit: Baby Elephants usually stay with their mothers for around 16 years in their natural habitat, this is not the case for elephants used for tourism. In some instances this bond can be broken after just 6 months. Taming these wild animals is what’s known as “Phajaan” or “the crush”. Some facilities torture the babies, confine and starve them, gradually break their spirit leaving them under the full control of the mahout.
    Captive Animals: Asian Elephants are very social animals and love to interact with each other.  As you will often see as a tourist in many places throughout Thailand, the elephants are chained to concrete, unable to walk around freely. Forced to perform tricks and carry tourists for most of the day with little food and freedom can have a worrying affect on the animals.


Al these reasons and more should be the motive for tourists to experience ethical elephant encounters!

“An Elephant never forgets”

Elephant washing

Ethical Elephant Encounters

If you do want to see these captivating animals up close and personal, there are ethical ways to engage with them. As you will see when you visit Thailand there are an abundance of Elephant Sanctuaries available that provide opportunities for tourists to volunteer, engage, feed, bathe and interact with the animals without causing them harm or stress.  It can be said that this is just another ploy to make money from tourists and therefore it is important to do some background research before you choose a sanctuary.


Ethical Elephant Encounters with BMP Elephant Care Project, Chiangmai.

We helped out at BMP Farmhouse, Elephant Care Project while traveling through Chiangmai. We didn’t really know what to expect from the experience or what was involved, but the experience was absolutely incredible.  BMP Farmhouse is a family run business and has over 20 years experience. They are located on a remote, pristine farm just outside Chiangmai, Thailand, with beautiful natural surroundings.

They currently care for five elephants, rescued from Northern Thailand. Their aim is to provide food, help them adapt to their new surrounds, nurture and protect the elephants from being mistreated in the tourism industry. The elephants have access to water, an abundance of food, medicine, forests to trek in and excellent mahouts who take care of them every day.


The whole day was fantastic from start to finish.  Our local guide ‘James’ was hilarious, keeping us entertained all day with his really good ‘bad’ jokes!  He informed us how to treat the animals and some safety requirements to be aware of before we interact with them.  We dressed in the traditional mahout clothing and bamboo hats and were provided with water and bananas for the elephants.  We had the opportunity to feed them, walk with them, make herbal medicine, trek with them and the highlight of the day had to be swimming and washing them!

Not everyone is aware of the reality behind the elephant tourism in Thailand, and so we hope through writing this post we can help tourists to better understand the best ways to interact with them.  If we can inspire one person to think or act differently in regards to riding elephants in Thailand, this will go a long way towards ensuring the highest standards are enforced in the Elephant trade.


To find out more information about becoming a mahout for a day with BMP Elephant Care Project visit their website:  here!

Full Day Tour
Cost: 2400 baht p.p
Itinerary: Brief Introduction about elephants history
Feed the elephants
Walk with elephants
Traditional Thai Lunch
Make Traditional Thai herbal medicine
Trek through forest with elephants
Swim & wash elephants

Check out more video’s from hitchhikinginheels here


Janine & Janice | Irish Travel Bloggers | Portugal Based Work Smart | Travel Often | Explore More Two Ladies on a mission to life an Unconventional Life, full of Love & Adventure.

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