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.
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.