Elephants are a big draw for tourism in Chiang Mai which means that there are many options for an Elephant Sanctuary when you’re visiting. However, with the increase in tourist cash, the beautiful animals are seen as assets. Not as animals to be looked after. At certain places that call themselves sanctuaries, the elephants are exploited and even abused to earn a portion of that tourism expenditure.
Why you have to choose an ethical elephant sanctuary
The Asian Elephant is now an endangered species. There are an estimated worldwide population of just 30,000 with c3,000 of those living in Thailand. The population of Asian Elephants has decreased by over 50% in the last 60 years due to a number of reasons including hunting and deforestation. Many of the remaining elephants within Thailand are still being used to display tricks in circus style amusement parks, for riding or for other unnatural behaviours to entice tourists.
Did you know?
The elephants must be ‘broken in’ in order to be controlled by humans for riding and working. In Thailand the traditional method of breaking an elephant in is known as phajaan or ‘crushing the spirit’. This involves keeping the younger elephants tied up in a cage to stop it moving. It doesn’t stop there. The young elephants could be starved, beaten or prevented from sleeping to break the elephants in. It’s an awful process for the elephant to go through. The process also makes the elephant more attractive for being bought for unethical practices. They are then abused further in order to ‘learn’ tricks and how to allow passengers to ride on them.
This is where the sanctuaries come in. They look to provide a safe haven for the elephants, saving them from their lives of the exploitation prevalent in the Asian tourist industry or from working within the logging industry. The elephants rescued from such lives can rarely be reintroduced in to the wild so a sanctuary is the next best place for them.
Don’t go to an Elephant Sanctuary that advertises riding or any sort of elephant tricks.
Which Sanctuary did I choose?
I’d read a lot of reviews to make sure I was choosing an ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai that had ethical practices and actually supported the elephants. In the end I picked the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, around 90 minutes drive from Chiang Mai.
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai prides itself on an ethical and sustainable business model. It was originally set up in 2014. The aim of the Sanctuary is to provide as many elephants as they could with good health, freedom and happiness. The money you pay to visit and donations get used to rescue more elephants, for vet care, food and also to buy more land to grow their Sanctuary.
Check out my review of my day trip to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai.
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary isn’t the only ethical option though. In no particular order, here are another four ethical Elephant Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai for you to choose from.
The Happy Elephant Home
This is another sanctuary that takes pride in looking after the elephants and making sure they’re safe. Your money goes towards helping the elephant population in Thailand. The sanctuary is around 90 minutes north of Chiang Mai and they offer a few different options similar to the others. The Happy Elephant Home also has a pool that you can take a quick dip in too which sets it apart from the rest.
Elephant Nature Park
The Elephant Nature Park is one of the biggest sanctuaries in Chiang Mai. They ensure that they do their best to provide the best environment possible for their animals. The Park also has a programme of rain forest restoration restoring 25 acres of the mountainside every year for the first five years. Elephants aren’t the only animal here though, they also have dogs, cats and buffalo. This sanctuary has a wide range of tours, more than the others.
Chiang Mai Elephant Land
Elephant Land is around 90 minutes away from Chiang Mai, on the border of Doi Inthanon National Park. The park promotes ethical and sustainable tourism. They also make sure that the visit to the sanctuary doesn’t harm the environment or the elephants. One of the cool tour options available here is a trek to a waterfall where you can bathe the elephants.
Into the Wild Elephant Camp
This camp aims to make sure that the elephants strive in their new environment. They also give back to the community by employing local members of the community and providing clothing and supplies to nearby villages. The elephants are allowed to roam freely with visitors and can decide themselves where they go and when they go back.
There are so many unethical sanctuary options in Chiang Mai so please do your research beforehand. I personally loved the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, just look at how much I enjoyed it! (PS – you get the clothing given to you, as nice as it is, I don’t usually wear that!). The highlight of my trip to Thailand was definitely meeting and bathing the elephants. Let me know below which one you decide to go with and what you think!
Are you looking for other things to do in Chiang Mai? Check out my food tour post here.
Thank you so much for well-written post on such an important topic! I am passionate about avoiding animal tourism that involves abuse, etc. So many people are clueless when it comes to the animal abuse that takes place in so many situations. This looks like an awesome sanctuary, and I would love to visit. I’m pinning this post to try to help spread the word!
Thank you for highlighting the differences between elephant parks. The cruelness of the ‘breaking in’ I had not had it explained fully to me before. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
Thanks for this. It’s heart wrenching to see what humans do to animals for their entertainment so this has always been a very shady area to understand which animal sanctuary is ethical and which one is not in Northern Thailand. They are flooding here and it’s really difficult to understand. Hence, thanks again for confirming the ethical ones.
Knowing that elephants are being starved and beaten is very bothersome. Choosing an ethical elephant sanctuary must be a priority. I am adding these four locations to my Chiang Mai travel log.
I appreciate you writing about choosing an ethical elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, as this is the need of the hour and the masses should be aware about these things.
The tourists, just for their photos end up doing more harm than good, as they don’t pay heed to being ethical that time.
These elephants might be huge and strong but it breaks my heart seeing them suffering. They should be free in the wilderness and enjoying their peaceful life away from the humans. That’s why I never promote any attractions involving animals, we shouldn’t bother their peaceful life.
I must say reading this post has made me think a lot more when I visit this part of the world and opt to visit an elephant sanctuary or take a ride on one. I never knew that the Asian elephant was endangered and numbers are twinkling. These sanctuaries you mentioned are surely doing a great job it seems and happy elephants are what they eork towards. Thanks for sharing an interesting and informative post.
I have been to this elephant sanctuary as well during my last visit to thailand and i enjoyed it very much. I do not like to see these poor animals being abused and used for the entertainment of others, so I am delighted there are ethical sanctuaries like these.
We went to Chiang Mai Elephant Monestary. It seems like they treat their elephants well. There are shows and small yards for kids to play. I love the experience throughoutly!
I love that you chose to write on this topic as many people couldn’t care less regardless of knowing the ugly truth of elephant sanctuary. It is a devastating realization that how inhumanly we treat these majestic and gentle creatures. I have heard a lot about Chiang mai sanctuary and seen a lot of videos and they do seem pretty legit even the caretake seems to love the elephants there.