The 5 myths about Elephants in Thailand

Travel Tips Thailand by Traveling 2 Thailand

Following information comes from WSPA and I mostly agree with it, although you could doubt about some of the assumptions made by WSPA. But in my opinion that does not dismiss the story.

1. Elephants are domesticated

People have been using elephants for thousands of years, and many thousands of elephants live in captivity. Thailand alone has about 2,500 to 3,000 captive elephants. The majority of them are used as tourist attractions and are often labelled as ‘domesticated’. The term domesticated leads the visitor to believe that the animal has lost its wild instincts and has successfully adapted to life in human companionship, similar to other domesticated species like dogs, horses or goats. The calm appearance of most of the elephants strengthens this belief.

But elephants are not domesticated. Elephants are wild animals in captivity that need to be tamed and trained in order to be used for rides and shows. Domesticated animals such as dogs, cows and horses have been selectively bred by humans for many generations. They have been bred to have particular physical characteristics and to have behaviours that are different from its wild cousin. This is not the case with elephants. Many are captured from the wild or are born from parents who were captured from the wild and unlike other animals, are not bred for the purpose of domestication or to create animals that are different from their cousins living in the wild.

As elephants are wild animals, they need to be tamed in order to be used ‘safely’ for rides and shows. This is a process that all elephant must undergo, whether it is born in captivity or captured in the wild. Taming is done at a young age and is very stressful and often highly painful process includes severe restraint and denial of food and water. In many cases, severe pain is inflicted to speed up the process. This breaking-in is intended to permanently establish human dominance over the animal elephant, and frequently leads to death from exhaustion and dehydration.

Although the breaking-in process of an elephant can take a week or so, it leaves the elephant with severe psychological scars that are carried for the rest of the animal’s life. And while the process for elephants born in captivity may be less extreme than their wild caught counterparts, they too are forced into submission by violent means, using coercion and fear. This can be seen in the use of the most common tool used by ‘mahouts’, an elephant trainer. The elephant stick, which has a sharp metal hook at the end, is used on the sensitive areas of the elephant’s skin to inflict pain to force obedience with ‘push and pull’ commands and permanently remind the animal of the dominant position of humans.

2. Elephants in the tourist industry come from the logging industry

Until 1989, elephants in Thailand were mostly used in the logging industry, after which a state-wide ban on commercial forestry left many elephant owners without income. The tourist industry became a new primary opportunity for the elephant owner to earn a living.

Following this logic, nearly a quarter of a century after the banning of logging, the number of elephants used in the tourist industry and the number of tourist elephant camps should have decreased. However, the number of elephant camps has actually grown. The animals that are now used in these camps are not old working animals, but many are captured from the wild. In Thailand as many as 75% of the adult elephants, that are being used for tourist rides today, have still been captured directly from the wild, although the number is difficult to validate.

3. Elephants in captivity ensure the conservation of elephants in the wild

The claim is sometimes made that commercial elephant camps contribute to the conservation of the endangered Asian elephant in the wild. This is a major misunderstanding as, in fact, the opposite is true. Reproduction rates of elephants in captivity are low and do not meet the demand for new elephants in the tourist industry. In Burma alone an estimated 100 baby elephants are illegally taken from the wild every year. It’s also not uncommon that the mothers and the aunts of the baby elephant are killed trying to protect the baby. The elephants are then smuggled across the border to be used in the Thai tourist industry. A young elephant fetches about 20,000 Euro. It is a highly lucrative industry.

Keeping wild elephants in captivity helps stimulate the poaching of these animals in the wild. And this trade is in addition to the threats imposed by the ivory trade and the reduction, fragmentation and degradation of their habitat. The increasing numbers of conflicts between humans and elephants result in the death of hundreds of humans and elephants every year. And while the population of wild elephants in Asia has been in decline for hundreds of years, it has sped up dramatically over the last century. There were more than 100,000 elephants living in the wild in Asia at the beginning of the 20th century compared to only 25,000 to 33,000 today. For this reason the Asian elephant is on the CITES list of seriously endangered animals. CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the treaty to protect species signed by 178 countries.

4. Responsible shows & rides with Elephants do exists

An elephant may be a large and strong animal, and a human puny in comparison. The process of subjugating them therefore requires severe physical and psychological abuse. On top of this, their well- being is irrevocably affected by the jobs that they are forced to do. Elephants may be strong and able to pull thousands of kilos, but their backs are not built for heavy loads. The saddle and the weight of passengers cause pain and injuries. They are also not built to stand on their back legs as they do in shows and they only do these tricks as a result of training based on pain and fear. Elephants are also used on streets to be photographed by tourists. The hot asphalt damages their sensitive foot soles and the strong sunshine regularly causes sunstroke.

Animals stay chained for long periods between shows and rides. This causes serious unnatural behaviours such as ‘weaving’ where they compulsively move their heads from side to side. Elephants are social and intelligent herd animals. In the world of rides and shows, it is not possible to meet their complex social needs.

5. Tourists demand elephant rides

Many tourists see elephant rides as the highlight of their holiday. However, this wish is often born of ignorance. As soon as they become aware of the suffering caused by elephant rides and shows, their joy quickly wanes. The chance is then very small that a tourist will still want to ride an elephant or visit an elephant show. Awareness is therefore crucial. And travel agencies are well placed to play a role in informing travellers.

The desire to see elephants is of course perfectly legitimate. Luckily, there are enough venues where people can see the animals in their natural environment where they have the space to exhibit natural behaviours and are not forced to perform tricks or carry tourists around. Visitors to these venues can encounter the animals on their own terms. Experience shows that this is highly appreciated by tourists.

About this travelogue

The Little Elephant Traveling in Thailand is since 2009 a travelogue to inspire traveling in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Southeast Asia is a mosaic of ancient temples, golden Buddha’s, markets, massage parlors, delicious cuisine, silvery waterfalls, scraggy limestone cliffs and 1000s jungle topped islands. From the serene tropical beaches of Thailand to the lush green mountains of Halong Bay in Vietnam. Follow my travelogue with in between Tips and Insight Information about Accommodation, Restaurants, Best places to visit and Places you never thought of to visit. You do not have to become a (paid) member, there are no advertisements and you can use / copy all information from this travelogue as long it is not for commercial use and as long you refer to this travelogue.

About the founder & editor

I belong to that race of men that don't fit in, a race that can't sit still, so they break the hearts of kith and kin and they roam the world at will. (Thanks Mark). Born in a tiny country in Europe at young age I started to explore Europe. And from 1985 I started to roam the world at will, first in Indonesia & Thailand. Now living in Thailand I am still roaming the world. If you have a question or need help in planning your holiday in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam then send me an email at The Little Elephant Traveling in Thailand.

Click here to search with labels

Ao Cho Ao Krating AQI Art Asiatique Attapeu Ayutthaya Baan Phue Balcony Photos Ban Bo Luang Ban Dan Ban Doi Tio Ban Don keao Ban Hia Ban Hua Laem Ban Huai Nam Dun Ban Huai Put Ban Ket Ban Khet Lang Ban Khok Ban Kiw Muang Ban Kong Ban Kwet Ban Luang Ban Muang Phrae Ban Na Wong Ban Phe Ban Phue Ban Pin Ban Rom Klao Ban Rong Khla Ban Sakad Ban Sakoen Ban San Charoen Ban Santisuk Ban Sapan Ban Sawang Ban Sop Mang Ban Wen Ban-Lung Bang-Saray Bangkok Bangkok-Airways Battambang Beach Ben Tre Bicycling BKK Blogger Bo Bia Bo Klua District Bo Suak Bo-Kluea Books Border Crossings Boutique Bridges Buddha Bueng Kan province Bung-Khan Buriram province Bus Stations Cambodia Camping Can Tho Car Rental Cars Caves Cemeteries Central Thailand Chai Badan Chaiyaphum province Chantaburi Chanthaburi province Chao Phraya River Chiang Kham Chiang Khong Chiang Klang Chiang Mai province Chiang Muan Chiang Rai province Chiang Saen Chiang-Khan Chiang-Mai Chiang-Rai China Chonburi Chonburi province Chum-Phae Chumphon province Chun City Pillar Coffee Shop Corona Culture Da Nang Dan-Sai Den Chai Destination Guides Dinner DMK Doi Chang Doi Inthanon Doi Pha Tang Doi Phu Kha Doi-Ang-Khang Don Chai Don Chang Don Muang Airport Don-Dhet Don-Khong Dong Hoi DTGN Du Tai Eastern-Seaboard Eatery Europe Eva Airways Exchange Rate Faces-Of-Asia Farming FarmStay Festivals Flight MH370 Flowers Food FoodDrink Getting-Lost GoldenTriangle Guesthouse Halong Bay Hanoi Hat Ao Katiab Hat Ao Nang Hat Ao Phrao Hat Ao Yang Hat Chaolao Hat Chaweng Noi Hat Chaweng Yai Hat Krating Lai Hat Kung Wiman Hat Lamai Hat Nam Pua Hat Pattaya Hat Pha Kon Hat Pla Heang Hat Sai Keauw Hat Sam Roi Yot Hat Tub Kaek Hat Wong Amat Hat Yai Health Highly Recommended Highways-In-Thailand Hill Tribes Historical Park Hoi An Homestay Hongsa Hostel Hua Lamphong HuaHin Huai Kon Huai Paen Huay Xai Hue Indonesia Isaan Islands-In-Thailand Jomtien Jungle Markets Kalasin province Kamphaeng Phet Kampong-Cham Kampong-Chhnang Kampot Kanchanaburi Kanchanaburi province Kata Noi Kenthao Kep Khao Sok Khao-Kho Khao-Yai Khon Kaen province Khon-Kaen Khun Nan Khun Nan National Park Khun Sathan National Park KKC Klaeng Klong Phai Klong Suan Ko Proet Koh Kut Koh-Samet Koh-Samui Kong-Lor Krabi Krabi province Kratie Kwan Phayao Laem Sing Lakes-In-Thailand Lampang Lampang province Lamphun Lamphun province Laos Loei Loei province Lomsak Long Lopburi Lopburi province Loy-Kratong Luang-Prabang Macau Mae Charim Mae Charim National Park Mae Hong Son Mae Klong Mae On Mae Sai Mae Salong Mae Sot Mae Yom National Park Maha Sarakham province Malacca Malaysia Manipruek Markets Massage MekongRiver MekongStory Missing Mondulkiri Moonrise-Moonset Motorbike rental Motorbike Routes Motorbike-trips Mountains Muak-Lek Mukdahan Mukdahan province Murals Museums My Favourites Myanmar Na Hua Bo Na Muen Na Noi Na Sing Na Yung Na-Heao Nakhon Nayok province Nakhon Phanom province Nakhon Ratchasima province Nakhon Si Thammarat province Nakhon-Phanom Nakhon-Thai Naklua Nam Pat Nam-Nao Nan Nan Boat Race Nan Memories Nan Morning Martket Nan Nakhon Airport Nan National Museum Nan Province Nan River Nan Walking Street Nanthaburi National Park New Year Nha Trang Nightlife Ninh Binh NNT Nok-Air Nong Bua Nong Bua Lamphu Nong Khai province Nong-Khai North-Thailand Old-Buildings Old-Photos OTOP Pak Nai Pak-Lay Paknam Krachae Pakse Patong Pattaya Pet Friendly Petchabun Pha Klang Pha Tub Phan Thiet Phayao Phayao province Phetchabun province Phetchaburi Phetchaburi province Phi Phi Don Phi Ta Kon Phichai Phitsanulok Phitsanulok province Phnom-Penh Photography Phrae Phrae province Phrao Phu An Ma Phu Chi Fa Phu Fa Phu Langka Phu Phayak Phu Sang Phu-Hin-Rong-Khla Phu-Luang Phu-Ruea Phu-Thap-Boek Phuket Phuket province Pimai POI Pong Prachinburi province Prachuap Khiri Khan province Provinces Of Thailand Pua Pua River Puay Noi Pub Qui Nhon Rainbow Rambong Ranong province Ratanakiri Rayong Rayong province Recommended Resort Restaurant Rice Field Photos Rivers Roi-Et province Rong Kwang Rooftop-Bars Route 1 Route 1001 Route 101 Route 1020 Route 1021 Route 1022 Route 1023 Route 1024 Route 1026 Route 103 Route 1035 Route 1041 Route 107 Route 1081 Route 1083 Route 1089 Route 109 Route 1091 Route 1093 Route 1097 Route 1098 Route 11 Route 1120 Route 1124 Route 1130 Route 1134 Route 1138 Route 1141 Route 1143 Route 1148 Route 1149 Route 1150 Route 1152 Route 1154 Route 1155 Route 1157 Route 1162 Route 1163 Route 1168 Route 1169 Route 117 Route 1170 Route 1171 Route 1174 Route 118 Route 1188 Route 1195 Route 12 Route 120 Route 1211 Route 1216 Route 1217 Route 1225 Route 1241 Route 1243 Route 1251 Route 1252 Route 1256 Route 1257 Route 1259 Route 1268 Route 1271 Route 1287 Route 1290 Route 1317 Route 1333 Route 1336 Route 1339 Route 1345 Route 1355 Route 1356 Route 2 Route 201 Route 2013 Route 2014 Route 203 Route 2034 Route 2041 Route 2046 Route 208 Route 21 Route 210 Route 2113 Route 212 Route 213 Route 2136 Route 2140 Route 216 Route 2195 Route 22 Route 2216 Route 222 Route 2258 Route 227 Route 2294 Route 2330 Route 2331 Route 2348 Route 2372 Route 2376 Route 2399 Route 3 Route 3005 Route 3037 Route 304 Route 311 Route 317 Route 3245 Route 331 Route 3377 Route 36 Route 4 Route 4005 Route 4010 Route 4017 Route 4018 Route 4020 Route 4022 Route 4029 Royal Projects Running Events Sa Kaeo province Sado Sai Yok Saigon Sakhon Nakhon Sakhon Nakhon province Samlors Samut Prakan Samut Prakan province Samut Songkram province Sangkhlaburi Sangkhom Santisuk Saraburi Saraburi province Satthahip Savanakhet Sawaeng-Deang-Din Sawankhalok Sayaboury Selfies Sen-Monorom Shanghai Shrines Si Satchanalai Si-Thep Sikhio Sila Phet Silverware Singapore Sirikit Lake Sisaket province Somdet Song Song Kwae Songkhla Songkhla province Songkran South Thailand Southeast Asia Special Routes Spirits Sri Nan National Park Sri Racha Stars StayHome Staying Stories Sukhothai Sukhothai province Sukhumvit Road Sumon Therawat road Sunsets-And-Sunrises Surat Thani Surin Surin province Suvarnabhumi Airport Suwwanaphum Swimming Pool Tak Tak province Talay Mok Temples Tha Li Tha Mai Tha Ton Tha Wang Pha Thai Language Thai Lion Air Thailand Thailand-National-Parks ThaKhek Tham Phu Tub Forest Park Tham Sakoen National Park Thap-Lan That-Phanom Things To Do in Nan Things Typically Thailand Thung-Chang TIT Toilet Signs Tour Companies Thailand Tourist-Attractions Tours Train Stations Trains Transport Trat Trat province Travel-Tips Traveling Trees TTD Ubolrate-Lake Ubon Ratchathani province Ubon-Ratchathani Udon Thani province Udon-Thani Uttaradit Uttaradit province Vang-Vieng Vientiane Vietnam Viewpoint Viewpoint Lan Du Dao Viewpoint1715 Visa Visiting Voor De Nederlanders Wa River Walking Wang Pho Wang-Nam-Keaw Wat Arun Wat Hia Wat Hua Khuang Wat Ming Muang Wat Na Wong Wat Nantaram Wat Noi Wat Nong Bua Wat Nong Deang Wat Pakor Wat Phasorn Kaew Wat Phaya Wat Wat Phra That Beng Sakat Wat Phra That Chae Haeng Wat Phra That Chae Kham Wat Phra That Chom Chaeng Wat Phra That Khao Noi Wat Phra That Nong Jep Wat Phra That Sila Laeng Wat Phuket Wat Phumin Wat Rong Ngae Wat Rung Khun Wat Si Phan Ton Wat Sri Mongkol Wat Suan Tan Wat Ton Laeng Waterfalls Weather What I Eat White Temple Wiang Pa Pao Wiang Sa Xaraboury Yasothon Yasothon province
Show more