Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai was a highlight of our trip to Thailand. We learned about ethical elephant tourism and had the opportunity to walk among these giants. I definitely recommend this experience when visiting Chiang Mai!
Elephants were originally not in the plan for our Thailand trip. I had read many awful accounts of how elephants are treated in Thailand’s tourism industry and I didn’t want to be a part of it. But then I found Elephant Nature Park, read about their practices, and their reviews from customers.
Here’s some background on elephant tourism. Elephants were/are used for circus shows, painting shows, rides, begging on the streets, and by logging companies. Elephants are huge, wild animals. To tame an elephant, they go through a horrible process involving chains and hooks to break the elephant into obedience. They are physically, emotionally, and mentally abused for weeks. They are then put through more pain as they are trained to do tricks, paint, and give rides.
Riding is in Thailand’s tradition and elephant attractions make a lot of money for the tourism industry. While there have been some laws made against abuse, it is not well enforced. While you would think elephants can carry the weight of a ride, the weight of a metal or wood seat and several riders add up and is still a heavy weight on its back. Can you imagine the pain after several rides a day? Even if the elephants are ridden bareback, a lot of abusive training was done and is continued to keep the elephant tame.
Elephant Nature Park rescues elephants that were previously abused. When we visited, there were 71 elephants! They buy elephants from their owners and have also tried to work with other elephant ride attractions to transition into no-ride attractions. As you can imagine, their efforts are many times fruitless because of the financial benefits of the attractions. Companies can make more money on a tourist’s ignorance and desire for the riding experience.
For more information about elephant tourism, these posts may be helpful:
Why Elephant Riding Should Be Removed from Your Bucket List
The Dark Side of Elephant Rides in Thailand
Our visit started with a ride from their Chiang Mai office to their park. During the ride, we watched an informational video talking about elephant tourism history and what to expect at the park. When we arrived, it was elephant snack time, so we jumped in and fed them melons.
We learned about the elephants’ eating habits – tons and tons of food! Because of their age, the elephants are mostly fed softer foods like very ripe melons, pumpkins, and bananas. The organization also rolls rice balls for them.
This sweet elephant has a permanently damaged ankle (front left). As a baby, she was following alongside her mom who worked in the logging industry. A log broke her ankle and it never healed properly.
We walked short distances in the park to different groups of elephants. We were led by our guide throughout the experience and the elephants were watched by their own mahouts. (Mahout is the word for the person who takes care of the elephant.) We learned so much about their previous lives, what Elephant Nature Park does, and how the elephants spend their days, which is mainly roaming around the acres, playing in mud, and eating.
Visiting Elephant Nature Park helps the organization continue to save abused elephants and other animals in need in Thailand! I would recommend it for the opportunity to spend time with elephants and to learn about their history.
Elephant Nature Park and Dog Rescue
This organization doesn’t only rescue elephants. In 2011, catastrophic floods hit Bangkok and volunteers rescued 2,000 dogs by boat. When the first 155 dogs came to stay at Elephant Nature Park then, it sparked a new mission. Now, over 400 dogs are at Elephant Nature Park and many are adoptable. These dogs are rescued from abuse, puppy farms, and illegal dog meat trade.
While their first and main location is in Chiang Mai, Elephant Nature Park is working on sanctuary projects in West Thailand, East Thailand, and Cambodia. They also welcome week-long volunteers if you want to do more than a half or whole day visit.
Check out this video of our experience!
- We did the Short Park visit, 8:50am to 3:30pm.
- The transfer from the office to the park is about an hour and a half.
- The cost per person was 2500 baht (about $70 USD) and included a vegetarian buffet lunch, van transfer, and the park experience.
- Elephant Nature Park: Website, Facebook