A dream comes true – meeting elephants in Chiang Mai

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When I booked my flights to Thailand two and a half years ago I wanted to meet some elephants so so so badly – but I was terrified that I might support some crucial Elephant tour operators. So I did my research, found my „fair trade“ elephants, loved the day but am still thinking about this descision now, more than two years later.

I chose Patara Elephant farm which had great reviews that turned out true when the day had come finally. I couldn’t see anyone ever beating an elephant or just thinking about it (yes, I know, I know, how can I know, right?) or any elephant that was in chains or in the wrong environment. They had a huuuuge piece of land where several elephants, mostly former „tourist“ elephants finally found peace and got great food.

During the day, we learned a lot about elephants (I even know how healthy elephant poo smells now), got „our“ elephant for the day, checked if the elephant was healthy, fed it, washed it and, finally, rode it.

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My elephant was called May Kammun and was my absolute soulmate! She was always hungry. At every chance she left the path to eat and we were the last ones. One time, when there was an old bath tub with some pellets at our stop she just inhaled them with her trunk and shot them in her mouth. I couldn’t stop laughing.

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It was a truly incredible day, we had two rides of 45 minutes each and a delicious lunch. I’ve never eaten anything better in life and it was completely healthy and – except the meat of course – vegan! I never knew it could taste this good!

I loved the day, I really, really loved it and couldn’t stop smiling. Just now, some years later, I’m constantly thinking about my experience and if it was ethically okay.

I thought it was when I booked, otherwise I wouldn’t have booked. If there’s one thing I really care about it’s about being responsible and about animals being treated well, especially when it comes to tourism. I decided not to go to the Tiger Kingdom (and I’m super happy that I did NOT go) and when I saw the other elephant tours with chained and hurt elephants I felt extremely happy and thought I did the right thing. But now, that more and more „Don’t ride an elephant“-articles pop up I’m not sure anymore if my descision was ethically correct. I always thought as long as they treat the elephants well I don’t need to mind riding them. We talked about this also with our tour guides. They said that if you compare our weight with the one of the elephant it feels for them like it feels for us carrying a a book. They don’t mind. I felt pacified. When I read some articles in the web now they judged riding an elephant because it’s not natural. Yes, they’re soo right and I don’t know how I could forget this point (maybe it happened in my over-excitement). I saw pictures of how elephants get used to letting humans ride on them and I almost cried. So now I’m here on this point where I don’t know if I should still call this the best day in my life or if I should feel guilty that I rode an elephant.

One the one hand I could argue that these were all rescued elephants that were used to humans anyways. They have a good life in this camp and they get treated well so I did nothing wrong, right? Right? I really don’t know. On the other hand people like me might be the reason that other people will always force elephants to let humans ride on them or not?

If I would sum up my current mindset it would be a very very guilty look back at the best day of my life. I love animals and I can’t stand the thought that I’m the reason why elephants get tortured.

What’s your thought?

Marlena

3 comments

  1. Hi Marlena,

    Great to hear you love elephants as much as me! This is a thoughtful, empathetic and honest reflection on the best way to meet the animals you love. I can relate to your experience in two ways.

    Firstly, I went to Chiang Mai myself recently and visited the Elephant Nature Park there. They showed us a documentary about how the elephants are trained to accept riders, do tricks and work in the logging industry. The process is know as ‚the crush‘ and involves the elephant being tied up, caused severe pain with sharpened sticks and food, water and sleep is withheld for several days. This trauma is continued until the elephants ’spirit is broken‘, that is they are psychologically and physically damaged enough to accept commands from humans. They are then overworked, kept in poor conditions and live in constant fear of more pain.

    It sounds to me that the camp that you visited does not sound like it would put the animals through this themselves. But in the spirit of respecting what they have been through in their previous lives, I think it would be best if they were allowed to live as naturally as possible within the realms of captivity. As long as riders are on their backs is normalises humans seeing them as domestic animals and property, which they are not. In the age of social media these images can be broadcast to thousands of people who will then want to copy this, and the cycle goes on! The Nature Park I visited rescues elephants from this industry and has a ’saddle off‘ no riding rule. I bathed, fed and walked with the elephants which was a really intimate and rewarding experience.

    The second way I can relate to your experience is the profound feeling of guilt when you learn what the animals are put through, as I also rode an elephant when I was about 17, on a family trip to Bali. Since visiting the park I have almost been consumed with guilt. I have found the best way to deal with this guilt is to get involved in conversations regarding elephant welfare and encourage people to do their own research, whilst raising awareness of what really goes on.

    I hope you find is relevant and useful!

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    1. Dear Laura,
      thank you so much for your comment! I guess the worst thing for me was to realize that I didn’t do everything right even though I thought I did when I went to that elephant camp. I still believe that the camp I visited is a great place for the elephants to live, except for the riding. We didn’t ride too long and not with a saddle or anything and the elephant didn’t really care if I was sitting on it or not but in the end what you said is absolutely what made me headache afterwards: it’s not naturally and never will be, no matter if they’re ‚used to it‘ or not. I really really hope that more people like you and me think about all this and finally stop the torture of these beautiful creatures. When I’ll come back to Thailand/Chiang Mai I definitely want to visit another elephant camp (I’ve heard a lot about Elephant Nature Park so that one’s definitely on my list) and then tell everyone… :-)

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      1. Yes I can understand that, but at least you had tried to make sure you made an ethical decision, and like you say, it sounds like these elephants were cared for! Definitely visit Elephant Nature Park, it’s run by Save Elephant Foundation and has a couple of different sites in Thailand. The one in Chiang Mai also looks after rescued dogs!
        Enjoy your next trip! :)

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