Is it cruel to ride elephants in Thailand? Best places to see elephants in Thailand. Elephants tours. Samui Elephant Sanctuary
I must admit that before going to Thailand, I didn’t know much about riding elephants. My knowledge, based on a variety of false information spread not only by tourists but as well by some travelers, was somewhere in the place where one can justify riding elephants if it looks ok and where one doesn’t see people being cruel to elephants during the ride. Therefore, before our trip we decided to find a place that treats elephants nice, doesn’t abuse them, and offers safe rides on elephants, safe for both, the animal and us. And guess what? There is no place like this. Because each time you ride an elephant, it means you are taking part in the long and cruel process of turning these marvelous animals into something they are not – puppies.
Is it cruel to ride elephants in Thailand?
The answer is: YES! And it would be great if information on this subject was made more public and clear. Not like, “you might consider avoiding riding elephants” but straightforward: “DON’T RIDE ELEPHANTS”. No matter how ‘gentle’ elephant keepers are during the ride, there is always a horrible and abusive history behind it. Elephants are not animals that have riding “in their blood”. They are not horses, they are wild animals
Why is elephant riding bad?
To make an elephant obey the will of its keeper and allow people to ride it, it has to go through a cruel process of ‘crushing the spirit’. The process is not seen by tourists. As a tourist you see only docile elephants, but have you ever wondered what it takes to make a wild animal behave like that? Well, let me tell you how crushing the elephant’s spirit looks like:
Baby elephants are separated from their mothers and kept in tiny cages with their legs tied together to prevent them from moving. They are beaten with sharp objects, burned, their ears are thorn, they are screamed at, scared, starved, and deprived from water. This cruel process may last for weeks. All this will psychologically crush these animals and make them “behave well” to avoid punishment.
So here is your answer. The elephant allows you to ride it, because it is traumatized and terrified to be starved, beaten, and have its skin being burned or hurt by a sharp object.
Why is it OK to ride horses but not elephants?
Well, if you are treating a horse with respect, take care of it, and it is not a wild horse kept captive but a domestic one, riding does not harm the animal. The biggest different between horses and elephants is that elephants are not domestic animals. They are wild animals and to make them behave in a particular way, one has to crush their spirit first.
Where is the best place to see elephants in Thailand?
The best places to see elephants in Thailand are elephant sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are the best places to keep ex-working and captive elephants, that are often no able any longer to live in the wild. In sanctuaries saved animals are treated with respect and are properly taken care of.
Many places in Thailand advertise themselves as sanctuaries, but in reality they are not. Therefore, it is very important to do your research before you pick one for your visit.
First of all, never pick a place that offers any kid of elephant “show”, entertainment performance or riding elephants. No real sanctuary does it. The opposite, sanctuaries try to save elephants from places like this.
Second of all, check the living conditions of animals in the place you plan to visit. Read the reviews, check the pictures. If you see elephants in chains, with not enough water or food, this is not a sanctuary either.
Elephants who live in captivity should have life conditions as close as possible to their natural conditions.
Is bathing with elephants ethical?
Bathing with elephants is still offered even by some of well-known elephant sanctuaries in Thailand. However, one can’t deny that this is some softer kind of entertainment for us humans, but it is no fun for the animals. During the baths elephants love to interact with other elephants and play carelessly. They simply can’t do that with bunch of tourists wanting to touch and bath them. The fact is, the less interaction you as a visitor have with the wild animal, the better it is for them.
I think many places offer elephant bathing instead of elephant riding, so tourists still have something. Some weird kind of interaction where humans can feel like conquerors of wild life.
Which sanctuary to visit in Thailand?
After checking all different elephant sanctuaries, we decided to visit Samui Elephant Sanctuary in Koh Samui in Thailand. On their website you can find many information not only about the sanctuary but also about elephants in general https://www.samuielephantsanctuary.org/
During our visit of this place, we observed how the workers interact with the animals. Elephants were treated with great care and respect. If during the tour an animal does not feel like coming close to the group, no one was forcing it. Elephant needs always came first.
Moreover, among people who visited the place with us, we didn’t notice any arrogant tourists who expected animals to entertain them. All treated the animals with enormous respect.
How does the elephant tour look like?
During the time we were planning our trip to Thailand, there were two tours available: the morning and the afternoon one. We decided to book the morning one as we were visiting the Samui Elephant Sanctuary during hot weather in March and with our two small daughters ages 5 and almost 2.
If you are going to Thailand during the high season, remember to book your tour in advanced, we booked it sometime before flying to Bangkok. Samui Elephant Sanctuary doesn’t require deposit, which means that if you have to cancel your trip for whatever reason (back then for example because of Corona), you won’t loose money. You pay cash in Baht at the entrance.
The stuff from the sanctuary picks you up and drives you back to your hotel or the location that is listed as a pick up place. After arriving to Samui Elephant Sanctuary we were offered coffee and sweets, while watching elephants enjoying their morning in a close distance. After that we were shown a short movie and an introduction about the elephants, sanctuary and the way visitors can safely approach animals. Before the tour we were given food and could feed elephants.
Later on we were divided into smaller groups, got a bag with food for elephants for the tour, and water for us. Each group had its own guide, who would walk with us through the sanctuary and provide very interesting information about each animal and elephants in general. Before the trip we had access to mosquito repellents and hand desinfection. During the trip we saw two different elephants. We were close (with no fences) to them, could feed them and if animals were ok with it, we even could touch them. Each animal was accompanied by a special person taking care of it.
The tour finished with us WATCHING elephants bathing. It was amazing to see these mighty animals simply having fun with each other.
After the tour we were offered a delicious lunch and later on taken back to our hotel.
We had an amazing time and our daughters still today remember feeding the elephants with bananas. The funny thing is that not many people believed they did that. A small girl feeding an elephant? This doesn’t happen ?
How much does it cost to visit an elephant sanctuary?
The cost of the tour is not the cheapest. Tickets cost around 3000 Baht (circa 80-90 €) for adults and 1500 Baht for kids from 5 to 11, smaller ones are for free. But you need to remember that with this money you support the elephants through the whole year, as well during periods when no tourists are coming. As well the animals that you see in sanctuaries were not abused and simply trashed but had to be bought for very high price from the people who owned and harmed them.
The people who worked there are very helpful and you could see that they didn’t come there just to earn money but because saving elephants is truly important to them. And although they probably would do their job even for free, they as well have families to support and feed, so don’t be tightfisted, tip your tourguide.
How to help elephants and elephant sanctuaries during the pandemic of Covid-19
The current situation is a huge disaster for all countries and places which major income from tourists. If during the Covid-19 pandemic tourists are not coming to Thailand it means that sanctuaries do not have enough money to feed their animals and pay rent for the large area where animals are living. How can you support sanctuaries then? Samui Elephant Sanctuary opened an online shop where you can purchase (you can pay by PayPal) food for elephants:
I find it a brilliant idea and became extremely happy that we can support the sanctuary and elephants during these difficult times. Remember without your support places like this may not exist anymore the next time you’ll be able to visit Thailand. Do something good for the animals, do something good for our planet. Together we are strong.
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