Should riding elephants in Thailand be stopped?

To ride on the back of an elephant is a once in a lifetime experience many people dream of when they go to Thailand. Wasn’t Thailand filled up with elephants once? In 1950, approximately 50.000 animals were counted; today there are a mere 3.000 left in the wild. There are many reasons for this, the main one being that much of their natural habitat, the jungle, has been destroyed. So isn’t it a good thing that elephants are being used for touristic purposes?

More and more people strictly disassociate themselves from these practices. Not least because of incidents like the ones over the last couple of days, where elephants have been responsible for two deaths in Thailand. Maybe this form of entertainment is not as harmless and innocent as we think?

No, it isn’t! First of all, elephants are kept in camps, in captivity, and often only have a few square meters to themselves, chained to a pillar with an metal chain. This should be enough to be against it, we think. Second of all, elephants are strong animals. To make them obey orders, they are caught as babies and their will is broken by way of fear and cruelty. This is a terrible tragedy for anyone who loves these animals. As elephants usually don’t thrive in captivity, new elephants are frequently taken from the few left in the wild. Also, Asian elephants are active during the night because they cannot sweat. How can they be exposed to heat during the day? Last but not least, male elephants can get aggressive during mating season. And this is what has happened in the past few days. Now there are calls for a law that prohibits the use of male elephants in tourism. But is this the solution?

Would it not be so much more constructive and sustainable if we were to give up this kind of touristic activity? How about more rescue camps or elephant parks instead, where visitors could have a close-up experience with elephants while feeding them or watching them bathe. Injured and abused elephants are bought by these rescue camps and cared for back to full health. In this way it is indeed possible that they can enjoy some kind of natural habitat in peace.

Lanscape shot - evening

Picture: Tongsay Bay on Koh Samui has been a sustainbility pioneer from the word go. Not one tree was cut down to build the 83 hotel suites.

But what does a hotel have to do with this? They could point out to their guests that they don’t support the cruel treatment of elephants for tourism activities. They could show guests alternatives of how they could spend some of their holidays gaining more authentic experiences, like the wonderful underwater world or the rich cultural highlights of Thailand. Hotels could undertake their own projects to protect animals or support the local community to which guests could have access. But it takes courage to do that.

Dog  Green Projects Manager and Dr Sith

Picture: stray cats and dogs are being rescued, given a home and cared for at the Dog and Cats Rescue Center.

Our Green Pearls members have this kind of courage and act as pioneers: The Tongsai Bay for example presents its guests with a letter in which they make guests aware of cruelty against monkeys and elephants. Of course each guest is free in his or her decision to undertake such activities and of course a 5+ hotel will assist in arranging them. However, the hotel asks its guests to make informed decisions, and maybe try out alternatives.

We appreciate this and believe in this kind of behavior. A lot of things still have to change. The demand for such “attractions” is sadly still too high. We would like to thank our hotels for being such courageous role models.

Community Service2 2014Picture: Tongsay Bay regularly educates children in local schools on recycling and taking care of the environment.