Can Thai Elephant Sanctuaries Truly Be Ethical?

It’s not as simple as riding = bad & sanctuary = good

Why is elephant tourism in Thailand such a big deal?

For the past century, elephants were primarily used in the logging industry for moving heavy timber, as well as carrying goods, people and other tasks. Then, in 1989, a government’s logging ban, due to deforestation and flash floods, put thousands of elephants out of work practically overnight.

Photo by kelly lacy from Pexels

Why shouldn’t you ride an elephant?

In Phuket, Thailand’s southern tourist hotspot, I saw a mahout (the term used for elephant handlers) and at least two other people riding on the back of a single elephant. Even though elephants are huge animals (Asian elephants can grow between 2–3 m tall and weigh almost up to 5000kg), their spine, due to its unique structure is very vulnerable to pressure from above. If you look up the image of what an elephant skeleton looks like, it will be easy to see why. As well as severe damage to their back, the chairs used to carry people can scrape their skin and cause painful infections.

Photo by Loïc Fürhoff on Unsplash

How to make sure you choose an ethical sanctuary?

In sanctuaries that care for abused and rescued elephants, animal well-being should be the number one priority, way before making a quick buck from tourists, and there should be no need to use tools or enforce tactics of control. That being said, differentiating between the good and the bad can be very tricky.

Can a sanctuary be 100% ethical?

The short answer is no. Let’s distinguish three main reasons for that.

Are there any better alternatives?

Photo by Nazreen Banu on Unsplash

Travel Guides & Thought-provoking opinion pieces @ladieswhotrip

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