A better way forward for elephant tourism in Thailand

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Two elephants. It is estimated that there are about 1,000 wild elephants left in Thailand.
Photo: Robbie Dale, CC BY-NC 2.0

Since Southeast Asia has risen in popularity as a tourist destination in the last decades, the tourism industry has been growing rapidly as well. Along the growth of the tourism, there are also environmental concerns and worries that the local culture might be swept away by the mass tourism.

While this is partly true, there is also a new consciousness and movement that promotes a sustainable way of exploring a country and a lot of progress has already been made to establish a more eco-friendly tourism industry.

Whereas tourists have often visited elephant riding farms in the past, there is now a new market for a more animal-friendly tourism industry.

In Chiang Mai, Thailand, a new model of tourism is emerging that is proving that it is possible to provide an engaging animal interaction experience for tourists in a way that is ethical, cruelty-free and economically sustainable.

An increasing number of sanctuaries are proving that elephants, instead of transporting tourists or other workloads, can live in their habitat freely while also bringing joy to tourists. But how?

Elephants are an integral part of Thailand’s culture. In the early 20th century there were around 100,000 domesticated or captive elephants in Thailand. Those numbers went down to around 3,500 domesticated elephants, while it is said that there are only 1,000 wild elephants left.

The purpose of the elephants has undergone a heavy change as well. Where they used in the logging industry as workforce decades ago, domesticated elephants are now part of the entertainment and tourism industry.

The elephants at traditional camps are trained to perform tricks or let tourists ride on their back.

Needless to say, those aren’t natural behaviors and the elephants aren’t able to live their normal life. Although they seem to be very sturdy animals and look like they can handle the weight of humans easily, the riding and entertainment of tourists have negative health impacts. They stand on concrete floor, have to be trained to let tourists ride them and are often taken away from their mother way too young. Those elephants often have their will to be broken to follow the instructions of their trainer through violent practice.

Even though a selfie on the back of an elephant looks cute, it is really the result of years of mistreatment. Any traveler interested in ethical and cruelty-free experiences should not support those traditional camps and refrain from riding elephants.

Read full article at Eco-Business: http://www.eco-business.com/opinion/a-better-way-forward-for-elephant-tourism-in-thailand/

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