Chiang Mai Elephant Camps: The Inside Story

Often featuring prominently on ill-thought bucket lists, Elephant Camps are a testament to the consequences of misinformation. All credits go to the tourism industrial complex that has successfully created a fallacious association between wildlife conservation and sitting on a tacky chair strapped to the back of an unwilling, intelligent living-being. For the discerning traveler, Thailand can often feel like an unsought indulgence, packaged for the lowest denominator of fuss-free, mindless tourism. Of course, real Thailand is far removed from the relentless showcase of commoditised experiences of ping-pong shows and tiger temples. For a glimpse of the other side of Thailand, the inside story, visit the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.

While domestication of elephants is steeped in Thai tradition, modern ethics and public awareness has led the industry to adopt a gentrified façade. As an environmental conservationist, words cannot describe how I feel about elephant camps advertising “elephant-treks” while masquerading as a conservation sanctuary. Here’s the truth in plain English –

Humans kidnap elephants. They then chain them, starve them and beat them repeatedly with sticks, hooks and worse; till they lose their mind, identity and spirit. The wild elephant now becomes a “working-elephant” and can be controlled by mahouts with metal hooks. This process takes anywhere between a few weeks to months.

Elephant Nature Park is one of the two sanctuaries in Chiang Mai that rescues these “working elephants” and places them in an environment where they can learn to be themselves again, under the love and guidance of other elephants and passionate human beings. Chiang Mai is home to a number of other conservation camps with varying philosophies and here’s a good summary of their ins and outs. However, ……read the rest here

Header picture by Aaron Goodman and the rest taken by Devan Panchal.

Originally published at