I’m going to be honest, my first experience with elephants was in 2011, where I went on a trip to Mana Pools national park in Zimbabwe and saw the wild African Elephants. The African elephant is feared and no one would even consider going close to one as they are extremely dangerous, so when I came to Asia and saw that people could ride the elephants I was a little confused.
I was very ill informed about the way that these amazing creatures were treated and how they are trained to be part of tourist shows and used for tourist rides. It is sickening to watch videos of how the baby elephants are caged and then beaten into submission. No creature should ever have to go through that and there are now sanctuaries popping up all over northern Thailand to take care of the elephants that have been rescued from the tourist elephant riding trade. These different sanctuaries have differing levels of freedom for the elephants and the ones with less space will chain the elephants up when the mahout (elephant handler) isn’t around. There is only one elephant sanctuary that claims to be the only one in Asia that is totally chain free. To achieve this, this sanctuary has a lot of space for the elephants to go about their daily business without restraint. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough land for many of the other elephant camps to be chain free. They are near other people’s properties and if they are not chained they can easily escape and destroy the neighbourhood.
With such a huge backlash from elephant rides and therefore people boycotting the business completely, the companies are shutting down and then where does that leave the elephants? They go into another tourist attraction where they are given more space to roam and tourists are then offered elephant encounters. This involves washing the elephants, feeding them and posing for photos with them. There is no doubt that this is better than the rides but the fact remains many of them are still chained up in the day and night, only being free during certain hours of the day. They have gone through incredible hardships to end up here but it’s hard to know a solution
My wife and I visited Chai Lai Orchid, a farmstay with an elephant camp one hour south of Chiang Mai city. The accommodation was set up to actually help the women of the area escape exploitation and trafficking and offer them a chance to learn new skills and the english language. There is an elephant camp on the property where elephant washing and photo tours generate revenue so that Chai Lai can rent the elephants and give them a better life than before. This revenue also helps to employ and train the local women through a non profit called Daughters Rising. Please watch the video below for a proper explanation.
Our stay at Chai Lai Orchid was amazing. The women working there were so hospitable and you are very far away the modern day conveniences of the city. Chai Lai Orchid has rescued 12 elephants from the riding trade and now keeps them on their property. As their property is small they do have to chain them up at certain times as there just isn’t enough room for them to roam free. They rent the elephants off the local owners as buying them just encourages more trafficking of elephants from Myanmar into Thailand. If the owner doesn’t get a huge sum of money then they can’t simply go out and buy another one so renting them is the best way to stop more elephants becoming involved in the tourist trade.
If you have been to Thailand or other places that have elephant tourism please comment on your experiences below. I’m very interested to know your thoughts and possible solutions