Is visiting an elephant camp ethical? Should I visit one? The ethics of elephant tourism are shrouded in controversy, much like the ethics of visiting the Long neck tribe. Several visitors travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand to experience personal encounters with the elephants. However, not all may visit in an ethical manner.
Elephants are amongst the animals that are often exploited for work or entertainment. In Thailand, they can no longer exist independently in the wild, and are dependent on humans to take care of them. Therefore, elephant tourism and elephant conservation are now interdependent.
When I was in Chiang Mai, I wanted to see elephants but only if I could do it ethically. In recent years, there has been increased awareness about the cruelty of elephant tourism and the ill-effects caused by riding on them. Apparently, there were tons of elephant camps, sanctuaries, reserves or parks around the area which made it harder to scrutinize which ones offer the most ethical way. When choosing the best elephant camp in Chiang Mai, a big concern will be how to choose an ethical elephant camp.
After a substantial amount of research, I stumbled upon Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, home to over 30 formerly mistreated elephants, who are now free to enjoy their lives. EJS is an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project in the outskirts of Chiang Mai founded in July 2014 as a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill-tribes and Chiang Mai locals who were concerned about the welfare of elephants in Thailand.
Alas, I found a perfect venue to meet and greet some of the few remaining elephants in Thailand. I was booked for a half-day package to EJS Camp 6 where there is an elephant clinic that caters to medical needs of every elephant in all of the sanctuaries.
I had the opportunity to spend quality time with the happy elephants in their natural home, as well as gain an insight into their history and behavior. I meet some members of the Karen tribe and even wore their traditional as a friendly gesture to the elephants.
All visitors were provided an unlimited supply of sugar cane and bananas to feed the free-roaming elephants. We were allowed to touch, play, feed, photograph, and interact with the elephants while learning about their lifestyle, stories and behaviors.
At EJS, there is absolutely no riding! Why is this important? It might come as a surprise, but an elephant’s back is fragile so, it is not built to support large weights on its back. This means that carrying a bunch of tourists is actually very harmful to an elephant.
Then, I was able join them for a mud spa, a healthy cosmetic mud treatment to their skin. It is then followed by a refreshing bath at a nearby river.
It was indeed an impressive afternoon with the elephants. And, I was completely happy I could see them in good hands with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary! You can even take home a free Karen t-shirt when you book with them online. Here are their contact details:
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
119/10 Thapae Rd Chang Klan, Muang, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Ph: +66835624263, +66-62 2494562, +6653273415 and +6653904166
Facebook: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary