Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants In Thailand

Saving Elephants in Thailand
Saving Elephants in Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand

Everyone wants to ride elephants in Thailand. Including me. That was until I spent the day at an elephant sanctuary and learned the disturbing truth about this popular activity.

Just imagine how incredible it would be to sit atop a massive 9 foot tall, 4-ton beast while lumbering your way through deep rivers and pristine jungle.

This is an experience many people dream about when planning to travel Southeast Asia on budget backpacking trip.

I couldn’t wait to get my photo riding on top of a massive elephant!

However, there’s a dark side to elephant tourism that many aren’t aware of…

Elephant Family in Thailand
Elephants taking a Dirt Shower

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is a natural sanctuary tucked away in the beautiful jungles of Northern Thailand. Their mission is to protect & care for mistreated elephants rescued from the tourism and logging industries.

Increasing awareness and promoting sustainable elephant-friendly tourism is another goal. The park currently cares for 36 elephants on 250 acres of wilderness.

When I first arrived at ENP, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. How close could we get to the elephants? Could we touch them? Were they dangerous?

The only other time I’d seen an elephant outside a zoo was on Safari in South Africa, when one of them charged us! It was an intimidating experience.

Saving Asian Elephants
Asian Elephants are Endangered
Elephant Nature Park in Thailand
Elephant Nature Park’s Owner, Lek

Hanging Out With Giants

You get to participate in many fun elephant activities at ENP. I was able to feed them fresh fruit out of the palm of my hand, watch them play in the mud, go on walks with them, and even get into the river to help give them a bath!

Watching these gentle giants interact with each other is an inspirational travel experience.

They chat with friends and family members by chirping and trumpeting back and forth. You have a greater appreciation for how intelligent and social they really are.

You won’t find any elephant rides at Elephant Nature Park though. No circus tricks or elephant paintings either.

This is because the elephants here have been rescued from such places.

Elephant Eating Watermelon
Time for Lunch!
Elephants taking a bath
Swimming in the River

Plight Of The Asian Elephant

Asian elephants are an endangered species. Experts believe there are now less than 2000 wild elephants living in Thailand. The population is declining at a rapid rate due to loss of habitat.

Illegal capture and trade for use in the tourism industry is also a big problem.

This industry thrives because foreign visitors all want to ride elephants or watch them do tricks, paying good money for the privilege.

But the fact is those wild elephants need to be tamed before they can be ridden.

Except the taming process in Southeast Asia is not the same as with a wild horse.

It’s much more brutal and is accomplished when the elephants are very young.

Elephant chasing bananas
I’d Follow a Basket of Bananas Too
Elephants being washed by tourists
Wash Elephants, Don’t Ride Them!

Baby Elephant Torture

Wild elephants generally won’t let humans ride on top of them. So in order to tame a wild elephant, it is tortured as a baby to completely break its spirit.

The process is called Phajaan, or “the crush”.

It involves ripping baby elephants away from their mothers and confining them in a very small space, like a cage or hole in the ground where they’re unable to move.

The baby elephants are then beaten into submission with clubs, pierced with sharp bull-hooks, while starved and deprived of sleep for many days.

You can watch a disturbing video of the process if you’re curious. Photographer Brent Lewin won an award for capturing this haunting image of the torture.

Elephants Swimming in Thailand
Baby Elephant Swimming

Elephant Trekking In Thailand

Elephant mistreatment doesn’t stop after they’ve been tamed. Many elephant camps continue to employ bull-hooks to control the animals.

While they may not be stabbing them constantly as they did during the training, it’s that deep learned fear of being stabbed that’s used to motivate them to work.

Always remember, elephants never forget.

If an elephant camp in Southeast Asia is claiming to be “responsible” with its animals, you should still be skeptical.

The process used to train them is often the same, even if they’re treated with kindness now. And usually, there is no way to be sure what’s going on when tourists go home.

Did you know that riding elephants can actually cause serious long-term harm too? Their spines are not made to support the weight of humans. I know it’s hard to believe given their size, but Zebras are the same way.

Baby Elephant Playing in River
Baby Elephant Playing in River

Save The Elephant Foundation

Founder Lek Chailert has been fighting to save the elephants and change her country’s acceptance of their treatment since she was a young girl.

Lek created Elephant Nature Park to rescue mistreated elephants from the tourist trade and give them a better life.

The park provides day trips and week-long volunteer opportunities allowing tourists to interact with and learn about elephants responsibly.

As a registered Thai nonprofit foundation, fees collected go towards feeding and caring for the massive creatures, purchasing additional elephants from their abusive owners, and expanding the size of the sanctuary itself.

A trip to Elephant Nature Park includes a graphic video presentation that helps shed some light on the secretive elephant tourism industry. It’s not easy to watch.

Elephants Watching the Sunset
Elephants Enjoy Sunsets Too!

The Choice Is Up To You

Brutal elephant training has been a traditional practice in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years. The problem these days is that most captive elephants in Thailand are used to entertain tourists rather than for traditional purposes like logging or military use.

It’s our demand for elephant rides and circus acts that lead to more baby elephants getting captured from their mothers, tortured, and sold off to entertain us.

Whether you ride elephants in Thailand or not is your choice. I try my best not to judge others because I’m acutely aware that we all have different moral codes & standards.

Most people who participate in elephant tourism in Thailand are completely unaware of how they are treated.

I know many friends who have ridden elephants. It’s easy to understand why people do it. I almost rode an elephant myself.

I simply wanted to share what I’ve learned after my own elephant experience in Thailand, to help you make a more informed decision moving forward. ★

Watch Video: Elephant Whisperer

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Travel Planning Resources For Thailand
Company: Elephant Nature Park

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Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Thailand
Suggested Reading: When Elephants Weep

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Thank you for reading my article on why you shouldn’t ride elephants. Here are some wanderlust-inducing articles about Thailand that I recommend you read next:

Do you still want to ride an elephant? How does this information make you feel? Drop me a message in the comments below!


Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
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Comments (415)

  1. Riding an Elephant in Thailand was always in my bucket list. It actually change my perspective about animal cruelty. on May 2015, we took a 26 day tour to Asia. Everything was great until my elephant ride. It was a beautiful day the ride was nice so I thought. Then at the end of our ride the elephant “trainer”. Stopped the ride and started to sell us some jewelry made from ivory. Right away, I realized that those ivories were taken from live elephants. I politely refused to buy any of of the jewelry. The trainer started taking loudly in his language and acted very rudely and the elephant started moving. That’s when I saw the trainer poke the neck of the elephant with a PICK AX and the elephant screamed from pain so loudly. And I saw tears from the elephant while I was wiping my own tears. When I came back to the STATES, I have told every single one of my friends and co workers and relatives what I experienced and I have been discouraging them to ride any animals. It’s very cruel. I was very happy when I read that Circuses in the country will not include those elephants anymore.

  2. Thank you Matthew for sharing this. I am glad as a traveler myself, more awareness are being raised about animal cruelty but we still have a long way to go.

  3. I could not agree more with what you say ! Elephants are not pets. Nor were they made for carrying tourists around.

    • yes, they are not pets but they have feelings and you should know more how they train they torture the elephant until the elephant will obey to the trainer……..so even they are not pets we shouldnt cause animals are here to let nature have more a beautiful smile not to make them fun of.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this, it has really open my eyes and mind. I will coming to Thailand in just over a month and will be visiting this rescue camp. I really respect what your doing and admire it. Keep going the world needs more people like you! I would happily be able to do some voluntry work at this camp.

  5. Hi Matthew! This is Jocelyn from Taiwan. I wonder if I can translate this article into Chinese? Some of my friends do not understand the importance of this issue and go to Thailand for elephant riding. I find this article very pursuasive and I’d like to translate the words and also attached the pictures you shared. Please let me know if it is okay for you? Thanks.

  6. Hey Mat,
    Thanks a lot for posting this! I had a heated disagreement recently about this topic. The person told me the elephants seem ‘happy’ and not aggressive. After I informed them about the ‘breaking’ of baby elephants they were not having it! Im so pleased I found this article- I’ve sent it to the person direct. I’ve been reading your posts and following you for a while. This article is extremely well written and a great step to educate people on responsible tourism.

  7. A powerful read, confirming our experience. We are in Chiang Mai right now, experiencing exactly this shady industry and all the confused tourists. Tourists seem to be aware or try to pay attention but as you mentioned, there is no way to be sure. Every place calls itself sanctuary, there are even Yoga camps with elephants.

    Thanks, again, will share that one!

    • Thanks so much for this website..I have never heard Elephant torture….this was just some very choking…I never ride the Elephant. But I knew there was Elephant ride in Asia….felt soo sad for the Animals….I wish I had my power to stopen this…is so crazy…Animal has to surfer to entertain humans

  8. So far we have only seen one elephant tour place in Thailand, and I don’t think I would support them with my money. The elephants were constantly jabbed with spikes and overall did not look particularly well treated or happy. It is really unfortunate that this seems to be the case everywhere as I have always wanted to ride on an elephant. Do all elephants have to be ‘broken’ to be ridden? Are there other ways of training them?

  9. Thanks a lot! Before reading this website, i thought of having a try on Elephant Rides on water in Thailand one day. But when I was searching for more informations, this website got my attention and i read it. I watched some videos regarding to how elephants were treated and i though of, “Oh, I was totally wrong! I shouldn’t have been thinking of riding elephants.

    So here’s a really short note for whoever who wanted to ride on elephants,
    Don’t hurt them, save them instead.

  10. Thank you for this amazing article! Many people don’t know or just ignore what really happens with the animals.
    I went to ENP and I was so amazed and touched by the way the elephants are treated. They are well taken care for and they finally have the chance to be normal animals again!

  11. I loved to read your article. What can we do about the elephant tourism because there are good Sanctuary like this one but the are bad ones. What an we do abou the bad ones?, what can we do to save the elephants?
    Thank you

  12. The same argument applies to riding horses. It is presumptuous to assume they are placed here so humans needn’t walk long distances. It is especially aggravating to see two people riding on one horse. Elephants should be free to enjoy their lives as they wish. It brings to mind the story of “Babar” who has the luck to meet the old lady who understands him and treats him with dignity. Elephants have leaders and live in tribal groups.

  13. I been in this place. Is not hard to guess elephants are mistreated and used for profit.

    Also, just look at what has been recently discovered at the Tiger Sanctuary in Thailand too.

    Just a shame.

  14. Is there any way to report the Sanctuary of truth in Pattaya? I saw their 2 elephants today both in poor condition tightly chained. In fact all their animals are poorly kept.

  15. I homeschool and I’m leaving on a trip to Thailand in July and I’m studying about places to go and visit. I was talking to my dad about riding an elephant and he said yes so did some research about it and came across this and I’ve read every word and it has definitely changed my mind about it so thanks so much for helping me with my school work and making sure i don’t ride and elephant. X

  16. Thanks for sharing this Matthew. It’s a shame so many people know so little about what goes on, but it’s articles like this that raise awareness and expose the truth. My husband made a fantastic documentary highlighting the sufferance these poor animals endure and is well worth a watch should anyone like to learn more. You can watch the full documentary here: https://vimeo.com/77203470. Thank you!!

  17. Thank you Mathew, i had no idea about the riding… I rode one myself when i was young. Now a bit older and wiser i had a feeling i rather take my kids to an elephant sanctuary instead of a tourist place ( my son loves elephants since he was a toddler).

    Your article was perfect.

  18. THANK YOU for emphasizing the fact that you should not ride elephants!!! My husband didn’t understand why you shouldn’t ride them and this article perfectly illustrates the reasons why it’s not right.

    Do you know if this elephant sanctuary offers volunteer opportunities for 2 or 3 week long stays?

    Thank you!!

    • Thanks for the interesting read. If the animals are suffering from ongoing health problems and are not allowed proper exercise, they are not much better off than in a traditional camp. It take more than good intentions to make a difference.

      • Actually this is libelous blog and completely full of lies from someone who hates what Elephant Nature Park are trying to achieve.

    • What a ridiculous “article”.
      Do you have any proof to back up the ‘quotes’ you’ve added or the figures or the claims or in fact any of it?!
      Having been to ENP, I can attest the animals walk around in herds with their familes, no one rides them, no mahouts use spikes or beat them and yes a portion of the activities are staged (feeding/washing) but under no circumstances are the animals “controlled”.
      “Compared to riding camps where the elephants during the tourist rides, leave the grounds and are ridden out in the forest, Leks elephants are confined to her “park”, since they are more or less uncontrollable… the rest move around like a prisoner, not like in a Zoo where the elephants are allowed to walk free in the enclosure”.
      Are you serious?! You’re comparing an area of 1980 ACRES with a zoo ‘enclosure’ and saying the latter is better?!
      If your site wasn’t so ridiculous it would actually be offensive; fortunately it is just laughable.

      • He wasn’t comparing them, he was giving an example of a good elephant park. He was saying that ENP treats them nicely and is a safe place for the animals.

      • ok then! elephants are ethical to ride on. so lemme tell you you have been born without feelings think before you speak! search more details and observe! lemme ask you dont you have brain to use that elephants are animals … imagine: people arent respecting other people…..how about animals? have a shame on yourself gurll

  19. Thank you so much for shedding light on this issue. I greatly appreciate your article! Will definitely visit ENP when I travel to Thailand. Cheers!

  20. Just a quick thanks Matt for sharing this information on the elephants. I shared it yesterday and I’m stunned at how many responses (and repeated shares) I have gotten from friends all over the world on this issue. I was completely unaware.

  21. I am going to Thailand soon, and want to go and interact with these amazing animals, I have done my research and over and over again ENP comes up as the best place to do just that. I would love to ride one, but did not realise they are not built for this and so am more than happy to visit and just see them. I will report back on my experience once completed.

  22. Hi Matt, I went to the Elephant Nature Park in November this year and got to interact with these amazing animals. After seeing them up close and hearing the stories from the guides I will never EVER ride an elephant. I saw first hand the damage done to their spines from being ridden, then to see the kind and humane way that ENP is caring for them. I encourage anyone to visit ENP if you really love and care about elephants. Bathing them was an amazing experience that will stay with me forever

  23. Me & my girlfriend are travelling to Chiang Mai and after reading this we cannot wait to go to the ENP!

    One question I have is that we have been informed that anti-malarial tablets are not necessary in Chiang Mai, but as the ENP is in the jungle will they be needed?

    We love your articles!

  24. I saw this first hand when I was traveling in Thailand a couple years ago. Some guy in a residential neighborhood not too far from where I was staying had two smallish elephants he kept in his front yard and he beat them brutally. When he beat them they’d scream. It was bad – there was something about their screams that sounded kind of human. I’m by no stretch an animal rights guy, but this was really an unpleasant thing to witness.

  25. I had a sneaking suspicion that elephants were broken to perform. This confirms it.

    Will visit the elephant sanctuaries instead. Good post.

  26. Here is why I disagree with this post. The same person who wrote this probably eats chicken, meat, fish, etc. So why is it OK to torture and kill animals by beheading them, etc. but not OK to have a friendly elephant alive that ONLY rides a tourist and feeds hundreds if not thousands of what would be poor Thais if not for this form of income???

    • John, most of the staff at Elephant Nature Park are Thai. They have jobs there. Thais don’t NEED to torture elephants to make a living. This is a perfect example of that. I’m sure vegans will disagree, but comparing eating chicken for food with torturing elephants for profit is not the same in my opinion.

      • I am a vegan and most of the food at the ENP when I went there was vegan. Still you can’t solve every animal rights problem at once.So it’s ridiculous to say that just because someone eats meat we shouldn’t welcome his/her support when it comes to helping other animals .My guess is that John isn’t doing anything more to help farm animals than he is to help elephants. Whereas I use every opportunity I get to help both.

        • Well said Eric. People can be ignorant. No you cant solve the worlds problems with animal abuse, but you have to try. Never give up, be their voice.

        • I agree with you Eric Bahrt!

          In my opinion, by helping elephants live in freedom is one step toward becoming educated about living cruelty free. Working in a sanctuary, rescuing elephants used for entertainment and begging will one day open their minds to the realization that they are saving elephants but contributing to animal cruelty by eating farmed animals and buying fur, feathers and leather products and they will STOP and join the ranks of other ethical vegans.

  27. I really wish I knew more and did proper research before I went elephant riding. It was one of those situations where a tour guide showed me a list of tours and I just picked one, which I thought was a great price and it included an elephant ride. Having experienced the horror elephants endure first hand I had to find better ways for people to enjoy elephants…

  28. When the earth returns to Jesus Christ someday all of the animals will return to their natural habitat!!
    This will be so wonderful!! There is much evil in the world and money is the root of all evil!
    If you see animal abuse report it!!

    • I don’t understand people getting so bent out of shape! Why ridicule someone for being religious? Especially when their religious views promotes hope for a better future.

      Doesn’t that give people more incentive to begin important conservation work now, if their belief in a re-newed Earth is strong?

      Seriously, people get so tiresome making fun of others simply for having hope of something better.

  29. Hey Matt,

    Thank you for sharing this important information; the ecotourism industry will surely improve with this information circulating. I had no idea about all of the disturbing practices associated with riding elephants. I had no plans to ride them in the near future or anything but I will definitely not be partaking in this activity now after reading this!

  30. Hello! I know this post was written quite a while ago, but I’m hoping you may still see this. I’d love to get your thoughts on one aspect of the ENP.

    We are planning a trip to Chiang Mai next summer, and I’d like to take my children to the ENP. It sounds like an amazing place! However, I’m concerned about my young children hearing too much about the abuse the animals have suffered, or still suffer from the trekking companies for the ones that are still there. We don’t need convincing – we’re already on board with no riding, no trekking, no tourist companies – so I want them to just enjoy the day with the elephants. It’s not that I want them to be oblivious; I am trying to raise them to be good stewards of the earth and to care for animals deeply, and it seems to be working. My youngest recently and accidentaly saw a shocking picture of a dog that was being neglected and abused, and he was a mess for several weeks. They love animals very much and are very upset by atrocities towards them.

    I guess what I’m asking is whether the ENP has a healthy message that isn’t too graphic for young children. Thanks in advance!

  31. Omg! The linked pic and video are nauseating. I’ve boycotted circuses for 30 years because of the abusive “training”. Had to share on Facebook. I had a discussion on Facebook awhile ago and was surprised at how many people never gave it a thought. When I provided links and tried to educat these people, some of whom are rescuers and animal advocates!!, they either didn’t believe me or care. Maybe because they aren’t small and cute and fluffy. Ok. Then what about the big cats?! Even if the training wasn’t horrible, their living enviroment is cruel! Oooooh! Why do “humans” have to treat living creatures this way!!!

  32. Thank you for posting this. It was a great read and very entertaining.
    As a parent who travels often with his young children, elephant rides would have been a top draw. Your article pointed out the dark side of what is otherwise thought of as a token of the tourist industry.
    I’ll look up some lists of sanctuaries for our travels in the future. This give us and our children a much better angle of approach for our travels and the amazing feeling of giving back.

    Keep on travelling!

  33. Hi Matthew great post. I orginially wanted to ride an elephant in Asia but after visiting Thailand and Cambodia twice and visiting Phnom Tamao in Cambodia and talking to the people there about how badly some elephants are treated, I refuse to ride one now. I’m going to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai next month and getting to feed and bathe these amazing animals, and have actually convinced some friends and work mates why you shouldnt ride them. Keeep up the great work

  34. Thanks for this brilliant article Matt. As you mention, these problems exist behind the scenes and hidden from tourists across many countries in Southeast Asia.

    Save The Asian Elephants (STAE) is campaigning to save Asian elephants from terrible abuse in captivity and tremendous decline in the wild.
    STAE is currently collecting signatures on a petition to the Association of British Travel Agents, the Prime Minister of India and the Prime Minister of the UK, as we enter crucial meetings with the UK Foreign Office and Defra and need maximum public support to strengthen our hand.

    I encourage everyone to please add their name to the petition and help to end this cruelty. http://stae.org/help-us/

  35. I am going to Chiang Mia this October and I was looking forward to riding these magnificent animals but after reading all this information on how cruel the elephants are treated I certainly will not be riding them, instead I hope to visit this place or a similar one where they are taken care of, I only hope that my money goes 100% for the protection of the elephants, they are beautiful animals and deserve to be treated well like all animals with passion and love. Elephants have had a terrible time over the years with the Chinese using their tusks for so called medicine and the evil people who poach them for profit, I for one will not add anymore missery for them and I hope I am not alone.

  36. I to am in a dilemma as to the ethics of elephant tourism in Thailand. I think the old taming techniques are disgusting and more newer animal friendly ways of taming could be the answer. In a perfect world, all animals should be wild and running free and people wouldn’t have to go to work but we don’t live in that world.
    It’s the same with horses, people ride them, old fashioned techniques were also disgusting but the newer kinder ways are much better. I don’t think the answer is to ban elephant camps because what would happen to the elephants then. The answer is education. I was recently in Thailand at Phang Nga and went on a short elephant trek and bathing elephant. It was great and the elephant was aloud to just wander where it wanted to and eat grass and branches with a few guiding words from the mahout who was walking along side. Both the elephant and us enjoyed the wander and never once did the mahout hit the elephant. Then we gave one a bath and it was just like a dog having fun in the water and enjoying being scrubbed.
    I don’t agree with shows like Fantasy and would never want to see it but I think the elephant camps are ok as long as the elephants are well looked after and trained in an ethical and animal friendly manner.

    • There is no kinder way that elephants are ‘broken’ in Asia. They all go through this horrendous Pajaan torture all for the sake of enjoyment of tourists. The idea is to stop poaching of young elephants from the wild and to stop forced breeding. The existing elephant camps will continue to abuse their elephants as long as tourists insist on wanting to sit on them. Which I personally find very boring, as apposed to watching their behaviour and the bond they have for one another is very moving

      • Completely agree with Jenny. There is no nice way to crush an Elephant. It’s not just the crush. It’s painful for these animals to give rides. They are not built to carry the heavy weight. There is NOTHING good about riding these beautiful creatures.

  37. I’m not a fan of riding elephants or the process that they go through to make them “suitable” for riding at all. But am curious as to the strong support for places that allow other interaction, such as washing / feeding etc. Surely these elephants have been tamed in a similar way for tourists to be so close to them? You wouldn’t walk up to a wild elephant with food in hand and start trying to wash it – so why the support for places that offer these experiences yet the condemnation of those that offer riding? All elephants that are safe to approach have been tamed to some degree. Using the argument that these have been rescued from worse conditions is a little, in my opinion, useless, as many places that offer riding have also rescued their elephants from worse places. I don’t know what the solution is, and am neither in support of mistreating any animal nor removing the livelihood from people within a society that has had the elephant at a central role for hundreds of years and is now seeing a rapid decline in the wild population numbers. Am just curious why so many people are in support of interacting with these huge creatures yet condemn those who ride them? Cheers.

    • i fully agree with you. if tourists not go to elephant parks (and tiger kingdoms) than there is no money any more for these very profitable businesses. an alternative is going to the true Thai elephant hospital in Chiang mai/Lampang TECC. Entree costs 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children…..

    • Hi SJ, Just to clarify, in the article it said: “You won’t find any elephant rides at Elephant Nature Park though. No circus tricks or elephant paintings either. This is because the elephants here have been rescued from such places.”

      So they’re used to humans constantly around them. And elephants do remember who treat them good or bad. With new caring people around them, they’re not hostile, but live in a worry- free zone so they automatically are happy to interact with those caring people.

    • The ‘true’ sanctuary’s elephants have been rescued from abusive camps, circuses or illegal logging. The elephants have not been put through the ‘breaking the spirit’ torture at these sanctuary’s. These fortunate elephants are able to live out their lives free of abuse and are now able to develop relationships with other elephants if they choose, which is so special to just watch. There are some cases where the abuse has been so profound that the elephant has been mentally scarred and cannot overcome their past. At Elephant Nature Park these elephants are given respect and space to try to mend. The hope is that these elephants do find some solace by allowing other elephants to support them.

  38. How can you criticise elephant riding and defend cock fighting? Surely animal welfare is animal welfare, regardless of the size of the animal.

    • For me it’s not so black & white. If I was the ultimate animal-rights warrior, I’d be vegan. I’m not.

      Please re-read that post. I’m not a champion for cockfighting. I’m indifferent to it. Roosters kill each other naturally. They’ve developed weapons for it. A bunch of poor farmers putting a ring around it to watch because they have nothing else to do is VERY different (for me) than the kidnap & torture of a highly intelligent & social elephant for profit. It’s not even the same ballpark. Just my opinion.

      I also kill mosquitos. And go fishing. I’m totally going to hell.

  39. Very nice post and great to hear about people actually taking care of their wildlife and helping to preserve it. I will probably travel to Thailand end of the year and will definitely drop by this place when heading up North – time to live up with the name of my travel blog :)

  40. Thank you for your article. We also visited the very same elephant sanctuary when we went to Thailand in 2013. Absolutely beautiful there! One thing we learned there that I didn’t notice you mention in your article though was that the elephants that you ride in Thailand provide the locals with money to feed and take care of them. If tourists would stop riding them, they wouldn’t have money to take care of them. They would then be abandoned, and because the elephants grew up in captivity, they don’t know how to live in the wild and would in most cases die. It’s a vicious cycle. So sad. It was good to hear both sides of the story when we visited the park. I would definitely recommend going there if anyone decides to visit Thailand!

  41. Finally, someone else who feels the same was as I do.

    I just went on a trip to Krabi, Thailand and was shocked and upset by the treatment of the Elephants used for animal Trekking. So much so, I wrote an article on my blog to make as many people aware of it as possible and to urge people to think twice about animal related tourism.

  42. @prasit putajak.
    Thank you for your story, its important to know the other side of the blade. I never been to thailand before. I’ve never known poverty, hunger, a lag of money or no roof above my head. So I never know how it must feel to do a job that seems wrong in western eyes and what many consider as animal abuse. Ofcourse i believe many people care about their elephants, and many people take good care for them. I dont believe the thai people who use the elepahnts are at fault. Many dont have money to go to school, to learn something else than their family business. Ofcourse not everyone but the ones that do,if they are learned by their fathers to hit and break an animal, how can they know better? The western tourists are at fault. They demand cheap rides, to be entertained. Its their job to spend money in the right area ( wildlife and animal friendly tours, elephant shelters). When that branch grows there will be more job opurtunaties in this field. This means food and a good life for the elephants and work for the locals. You can also help to make a difference, talk to people who dont treath their animal right. Learn them what is right and wrong. Make people aware of the problems. That is already a begin for a better future.

    I wish you the best of luck and i hope for a better future for the locals and the animals.

  43. Great article. It made me cry even if I didn’t considered to ride an elephant, but they do look very sad in captivity, didn’t knew about the crash.
    I misses the Sanctuary while in Asia, unfortunately

  44. Thank you for writing this article and spreading the word about why riding elephants in Thailand (and anywhere in the world) is a really, really bad idea. I saw so many of these places in Thailand last year and since the elephants appear to be well taken care of it can be easy to assume there is nothing wrong with riding them.
    I think we have a certain responsibility as travelers to educate ourselves and travel responsibly. These articles are really helpful to anyone who wants to be informed!

  45. This is a really interesting article.
    After a visit to Northern Thailand this year and booking a two day trekking activity in Chiang Mai, our group spent two days at an elephant camp run by a company called “Jumbo Trekking Tours”. It was horrific! The elephants were made to perform tricks and living in disgusting conditions and immediately I decided not to ride one when I arrived. The guides were drunk and high and were mistreating the elephants right under our noses and banned me from filming anything when I was arou d them or the elphants. I made contact with Lek about this place (which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere..but possible not far from her sanctuary) and I hope that she and her team will be able to track down these guys.
    If it is helpful for your article-topic or to inform people who may be planning to visit South East Asia to NOT ride elephants, then I have two or three videos via my Youtube Channel that I was able to take in the Elephant Camp. It just gives an insight into these kind of camps and the conditions for the elphants. So I hope they will encourage people to avoid such tours and raise more awareness of why not to ride elephants.
    (Youtube:The Hunter Traveller)

    *Visit Lek’s Elephant Sanctuary where elephants are encouraged to create herds, are treated responsibly, and able to live amongst natural surroundings* :)

  46. Great article for awareness! I’ve never heard of “The Crush”… this is really concerning. I plan on taking a trip to Thailand because it is the heart of where elephants live – I will now refuse to ride elephants. Thanks for the info!

  47. Thank you for the information. My friends and I planned to try Elephant Trekking in Koh Phangan this weekend and I’m thankful that I came across your article. This made me decide to just go for Elephant Nature Park and wash the Ele’s instead. Millions Thanks!

  48. My niece told us about a documentary she watched and was very anti elephant trekking but we all said no they are well cared for etc we then went to the kho lak elephant camp were they all had the picks in hand we told them we do not want them used so my niece hesitantly went on the ride I wish we hadn’t forced her now reading this, but would just like to say her guide had a bamboo stick and he continued to hit the elephant with it so in return my niece decided to wack him with her selfie stick! He was not amused. The worst experience for us was the Fantasea show that shocked us and we left there were load cannons going off on stage the use of the elephants in the show was awful I wish we had known beforehand

  49. I’m just looking at booking the four seasons tented camp in the golden triangle, Thailand which includes elephant experience – I do not want to ride elephants but do you know if its an ethical reserve?

    Any info please?

  50. I’m an elephant trainer instructor. I work with elephant more than 10 years in tourism field.

    I disagree with this opinion that againt elephant working.
    From statistic in 2009, Domesticated elephant have more than 2000 elephants in Thailand.
    And most of elephant work in tourism industry. The words you spread will save a few sanctuary that you supported but in another way that mean the rest of elephants will be poverty and more than 3000 people lose thier job.

    I’m not afraid if someday i lose my job, even i will missing many of elephants that i used to work with.
    For living, i think not too difficult to find a new job. But why don’t you think of other elephants that will be no job, no food and nobody take care of them.

    You don’t have to believe me, i’m nobody, but please think with your own common sense by the general facts that you might known and forget to think about.
    – Grown up asian elephants eat minimum 200 kg. of food per elephants per day or about 10% of thier weight.
    – Domesticate elephants in Thailand, in 2009 record by government is about 2000 elephants. and i think increasing slightly for recent years.
    – Recents sanctuary or called themself elephants sanctuary, that’s run by donation, for all over Thailand now maintain not more than 10% of elephants we have.
    – That’s mean the 1800 elephants now maintaining by others, my work, which let elephants work, which animal lovers called us evil.
    – By the 2009 record, wild elephant have about the same amount 2000 but slightly decreasing because of not enough foods in the national park.
    – By above facts, 1800 elephants have to work for thier own foods to survive and this becoming the world-wild drama. if you still not agree with me to let elephants work, what is your suggest solutions? where the foods of elephants come from? Do you really think just the donation money can maintain all 1800 elephants?
    – Why we don’t just let the domesticated elephants to be free in the wild? The first reason is a food. Recently, our national park nowaday is decreasing, when forest gone, the wildlife food gone as well. Do you still want them to be free and straving in the wild?

    Another reason is about the feeling of elephant owner, The elephants for them is a member of family. they grow up together. In the past, age of imperialism, the western came here and start trading teak wood. peoples here at that time use elephant to tranport the wood, they work together generation by generation untill now for more than 200 years. you might think the domesticated elephant now came from the wild, yes thier grand grand elephant parents came from the wild but not the recent domesticated elephant. Nowaday, after the idea of rehabited elephants to be free in the wild is dead-end, Working in Tourism Industry is the answer and the source of foods of all domesticated elephant. We work together again as in the past, they both work for living together. The money that they have got from work most paid to be elephant foods and have a few left for owner to survive. Some of elephants owner are rich, but most of them who is a Karen hilltribe are not. Even now the price of elephants is very high about 1-2 million baht but they not sell thier elephant and try to keeping elephant with thier family because the feeling that thier elephants is apart of their family. Ten years of my work, i saw a lot of elephant owners who is not rich at all, the things they did when they can’t maintain their elephant and thier own survive is to join the mass tourism elephant camp that run by the rich man, that they not really want, lower paid than standard, because the mass sell price is cheap, but they have to work for years to survive. they cannot run small business by thier own because thier are no money and lack of business skill, so they have to work year by year to keep thier elephants to thier family.And to sell thier elephant is always their last choice, even there are the easier way, to run out of the poverty.

    From all above, I’m not expect you to change your vision that saw us as a bad guy to be a good guy, all i need is, you read my words and re-think about it with no bias, not for us the human who used elephants, but for the rest of the working elephant.

    You will not believe me, because It’s againt all believe that you ever heard and thought, But let your common sense decide.
    How one people could such being an evil like that? and what is truely purpose to be evil?
    Do you really think we so greedy for money?

    I work with only ten years to let elephant working. But many of elephant trainers, the evil guys who let elephant work, they sacrified thier life to live with and take care of elephants, Yes, i’m also angry and sad as well, when the peoples judging us, especially a poor guy like them, as an evil. But what can we do? we just a small peoples who try to fight the poverty for both human and elephant in reallity.

    All i can do is to speak out here for the peoples you thought they are evil. even my English is not really well, and make you confused, please forgive me.but i have to do, because most of them cannot communicate English as i can, they are low educated and poor. So i think this all the things i could do for them.

    • Thanks for the long and thoughtful comment Prasit, it’s nice to learn from the other perspective. However elephant sanctuaries like ENP seem to be doing pretty well, are staffed by locals, and still attract tourism. I believe it should be used as a model for others. If they are successful, why can’t elephant trekking companies change their business model and become sanctuaries instead?

      • yes like tecc in chiang mai/lampang. the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. government controlled entree 200 baht and children 100 baht. The live inside the national Park.

    • Prasit, thank you for sharing your inside perspective on this. I realize that as Westerners we may seem like we’re always judging others and telling others how to run things but one of the main points of the article was the training of the young elephants and how cruel it is. You didn’t really talk about this. However, your view of training and how/what happens would be very welcome and gives us another perspective. I’m glad you took the time to comment.

      • As I’m sure Prasit is too modest to say, he and his colleagues are actually at the forefront of changing training techniques for all Thai elephants. By working with mahouts and traditional elephant owners (not blaming them), they have affected great change in not only training techniques, but mahout techniques, in elephant handling and elephant welfare. The training used is a hybrid of positive reinforcement techniques mixed with traditional beliefs. All cultural and spiritual aspects from traditional techniques are included, but the actual training technique is positive reinforcement.
        Think about it….
        It is easy to buy 40 elephants, change the mahout and tell them how to treat the elephant. You have helped 40 elephants have a better life. BUT, the far greater challenge and what Prasit and others have dedicated their lives too, is to change hundreds of years of mahout culture, to educate them, to show them better ways. Slowly over time, you can affect change for thousands of elephants in this manner.
        My hat off to you Prasit and all my other elephant colleagues on the ground in Thailand working everyday to affect REAL and sustainable change to Thai elephants.

    • Dear Sir,
      What an appalling excuse for abuse towards gods beautiful devine beings.
      I won’t go on about what is like for you and your people as I have no idea what it is to live like you do.
      We all an innate self of what is right and what is wrong. To hurt someone or something is cruel in itself, whether you are educated or not.
      I am sorry there is NO EXCUSE for any abuse towards any animal. Not for greed, not for money, not for food.
      Just leave the elephants to live naturally in the wild.
      I could say so much here, but you’ve angered me with your pitiful words or reasons for doing what a lot of people do in your country and other countries..
      You are fighting poverty for yourself not for the elephants, if that is the case you would see the elephant as an ambassador and provide and show tourists how to treat elephants as they should be, with respect and honour to which you have none.
      When I go this year to Thailand I will speak out and if I see such abuse, I will not stand by and do nothing….
      If you can write on here you can read up about how wonderful your elephants are and how people all over the world love and respect elephants more than most thais do. You are so lucky and fortunate to have them in your country. You do not deserve them at all..
      Good luck with the pity form..

      • The elephants can’t go back to the wild because there isn’t much left of the jungles. This is a complex issue. At least Prasit had the courage to share his view as both an elephant trainer and a Thai person. There are also many people needing work in Thailand. I have decided to not ride elephants. Yet I also want to hear from people like Prasit or elephant trainers who want to break away from old fashioned training. Its like saying all people who ride horses are abusive towards horses. For poor Thai who don’t want to train elephants anymore, Thais need to work on improving education and opportunities and incentives.

    • That’s a great post. Elephants’ camps is a difficult problem. I think the only solution would be providing restrictions to the existing camps and imposing penalties for mistreating animals. The second thing would be letting the industry die out rather than killing it. Let the camps keep going as long as they treat the elephants well but don’t “crush” or breed new baby elephants and don’t train new mahouts. Nevertheless it is important to talk abut this to increase people’s awareness.

  51. Thanks so much for this post! I’m about to do a similar one myself. :) I just spent a week volunteering at ENP and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done!

    Before visiting, I had no idea how horrifically treated elephants were – I too used to want to ride them, but quickly quashed that idea a while ago when I learned how badly some of the camps treat them. However before my visit, I didn’t know about the training process and it’s heartbreaking to see such wonderful animals put through this. And tourists have no idea! I think it’s a hugely important message to spread. It’s the consumers who can stop this, sadly not the people running the treks etc.

    I’m glad to see so many comments of people wanting to visit this amazing place, so thank you for promoting it! And of course thank you to Lek for, on top of everything she does for the animals, allowing a new form of elephant tourism! :)

  52. I’m late to this discussion, but had to say- fantastic post! I’m sure not a lot of people realize how detrimental this practice is, so great job explaining!

  53. Hi guys, I have arrived in Thailand for our honeymoon and it was our dream to ride one of these beautiful creatures. I must say we did go on an elephant trekking day and something didn’t feel right. So, I Google it Then I found this page. We feel so disgusting about funding this monstrositY. I hope we come back again and visit this sanctuary. Need to do some good to make up for the bad we did.

  54. I am in Thailand as I write this. My friend and I heard about the elephant trekking and decided to give it a try. We arrived to the site and saw the elephants being beats with the blunt side of an ice pick on their head. I immediately got off the elephant and wanted no part of the ride. It was utter animal cruelty and horrific to see. These are extremely smart and beautiful animals.They should NEVER be treated this way. I am disgusted with myself for being so naive. I hope this is another eye opener to anyone who decides to do this. If our tourist money doesn’t go towards this cruelty the demand for these rides will stop. It needs to end.

    • I did the same thing Nick. I ended the ride, less than a quarter of a mile from the Elephant stable. I couldn’t bear to see this beautiful animal being treated so horribly, it made for a terrible mar on what was a great vacation.

      I only wish I had read this story PRIOR to leaving for Thailand. On my next trip, I’d love to ENP and spend a day giving these beautiful creatures the attention they truly deserve.

  55. I am confused. I just read an Instagram post where the person posted pictures at Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai. And they were riding the elephants. Of course defending it saying the elephants had been rescued and were “already trained” so it was ok to do this. Thats when i started looking it up and found this article. Im confused because, are there two elephant parks in Chaing Mai, Thailand called ENP? If not, this couple on IG, who are currently there, are riding elephants at this place in your article. Or so it seems. I am completely against this practice.

    • Hi, must be a mistake – we were just in Thailand at ENP and they don’t allow riding on the elephants (absolutely none). Was a perfect natural experience with the elephants.

      Unfortunately, there are countless elephant trekking places in Thailand where riding is allowed (one very close to the ENP area) so I assume there is some mistake.

      All we can do is support those places who do the right thing. We spent 4 weeks in Thailand and the 1 day at ENP was the highlight. Absolutely magnificent.


      • No they don’t allow riding on the elephants at Elephant Nature Park.

        Elephant Nature Park used to allow riding (on the neck) but moved away from that. In any case, it wouldn’t be practical these days with the number of visitors.

  56. Thank you for sharing this information, I have always wanted to swim and ride on a Elephants, but now I am disgraced that they would do that to Elephants.

  57. Thank you Matthew for awareness raising. My husband and I also visited ENP last week and now have an understanding of the violent and cruel process elephants go through to be broken for human use. So glad to know this. We are at Kantiang Bay on Koh Lanta now. There’s a young elephant chained here 24/7 to advertise elephant trekking. Lots of people stop to get their photo in front of it. When they know how it suffers we hope they will stop participating.

  58. I was planning on going to Chitwan (In Nepal) for some jungle safari atop elephant. Now, I don’t think so. Maybe I will take the jeep ride instead! By the way, come to Nepal. I can’t believe you haven’t come to Nepal and shared your experiences about being here! March is the tourist peak season and the best season for all touristic activities. I hope you will come here someday. I would love to meet you when you are here! Hehehe!

  59. Thank you for this post. I’ll probably be (rightly) strung up for this but I’ve ridden 3 elephants in the past two and a half years at what I believed to be ethical and nurturing places. I am currently in Phuket and had booked to ride my fourth for my birthday this weekend. I have now cancelled this trek and definitely intend to visit ENP when I head up North this summer.

    I think it’s very easy to read good reviews/turn a blind eye and convince yourself that the elephants are well treated in these places when the reality is often so different, as you’ve rightly pointed out. I’m just a little gutted it’s taken me this long to realise this and act upon it.

    If your elephant experience is about getting your next great profile pic, your stunning photos alone prove that riding an elephant isn’t necessary to get amazing photos and appreciate the beauty of these amazing creatures.

    Thanks once again for the impact this post has made.

  60. I was able to take a gap year in 2014 with a friend and we decided to go to an elephant santuary in Chaing Mai. At the time we knew little about how elephants were treated however, when visiting the santuary it was clear the elephants that we’re being rescued had something visibly wrong. I found getting to know the elephants and the sanctuary so enriching and just that day of feeding, riding and bathing the animals was the best day I had in Thailand. I see now maybe riding the elephants can be avoided the next time I go, but when I was riding them with my friend I felt so close to the elephant and it was an absolutely amazing trek that I don’t really regret. I hope to go and do ENP the work sounds amazing !

    • I would like to turn what you wrote in your post into a question. Does your feeling so close to an elephant and experiencing an absolutely amazing trek justify or detract from anything that Matthew’s article just illustrated? Enough to ignore the possibility that you were bearing weight on a tired hungry animal who had his spirit crushed in order to be aptly trained in carrying you (which his body was not designed to do) across a distance? Granted that would be a worse case scenario, but I believe it to be true that this is also a sadly common one.

  61. Amazingly written Matthew. People need to know more about this.
    I taught English in Thailand for 6 months and my orientation group went to an elephant camp that was a terrible experience. I then decided to stay at ENP for a week in my last month in Thailand and it showed me how moving a humane elephant experience can be.
    It’s incredible what people will choose to ignore when it makes them uncomfortable (like hearing about the “breaking” process), ignorance truly is bliss.
    The change of this treatment of elephants starts with us since we are the tourists coming into these places and spending all our money on riding elephants and getting pictures with them. If we redirect that money we can start to change how elephant tourism works in these countries.
    Thank you for helping spreading the word, brother!

  62. Great post and very diplomatically put! Unfortunately I’m not so diplomatic when it comes to telling my friends off whenever they post a picture riding one on facebook. I seriously don’t care that it was the best experience of their life and they thought the elephants were ‘happy’. All of that came at the expense of that poor animal. And even if there were ‘humane places’ with free elephants you aren’t meant to ride them- they suffer for it, and any humane place comes at the expense and at making tourists think its ok to go to the other hugely inhumane places.

  63. I go to enp every 6 months…not only for the amazing views and the beautiful elephants but mainly because of the 400 dogs there!!

  64. please tell me what’s your view on the Thai elephant home in Chaing Mai, as I was thinking of seeing the elephants there. They are wonderful animals and I would hate to participate in anything that was cruel.

  65. Thank you so much for writing this informative, thought-provoking, and non-judgemental article, Matthew. I’ll be sharing it with my friends before we go to Thailand so they’ll understand why we will not be supporting this industry! (Unless we make it to the wonderful sanctuary :) )

    • No problem Lydia, I was un-informed when I first traveled there, want to help inform others so they can make their own decisions.

      • I believe your article should be reworded a bit. I have spent time at elephant sanctuaries who allow tourists to ride elephants bareback, as they are able to physically hold their weight. It is the weight of the metal seat that is painful due to the four points that dig into the skin, as well as the pain it causes on the elephants spine. Bareback riding, on the condition that the elephant is not beaten or confined, can be humane. Elephants who have been rescued from trekking companies can be trained using vocal cues, and from my experience enjoy the bonding.

        • where was this place you went to ride bareback? im tryng to find the perfect place in Thailand to visit and spend time with the amazing animals that live there and I don’t want to end up going to a bad place where they are crewel to them.

  66. Hi Mathew, I was at the ENP and realy enjoyed it. Even wrote a blog about it and put a referral on my site. I LOVE elephants and you can’t find better places for them and better caretakers then Lek and her team. Fantstic that you are promoting them with this great article!

  67. I’m eleven years old. My family is traveling the world. We were just in Thailand. And before that we were in South Africa on a safari. We are in Cambodia and we are going to go to the Elephant Nature Park. It sounds really fun. It literally breaks my heart, how they tame elephants. They are my favorite animals. I think people need to raise awareness. Thanks for expressing that.

  68. I did know about this but not in so much detail. Great post. Would love to have this kind of experience one day.

  69. I am looking for a true animal friendly location close to Bangkok (okay to drive for a few hours). Please provide your recommendations.

  70. Thank you Matthew for your bright insight to The Elephant Nature Park!
    I cant believe its exactly 6 months since I was there! I cant wait to go back and do it all again. It was a life changing experience to work and play with these majestic and gentle creatures and a true blessing to meeting my inspiration, Lek Chailert!

    I truly recommend this wonderful experience to any and every animal lover. And it is not expensive! All the money goes directly back to the park in supplying the elephants with the copious amounts of food they need and helping to rescue more elephants, and you get to have a life changing experience along the way, so its a ‘win win’ in every way! Thank you Lek and Darrick and I look forward to my next trip to see you all again!

  71. Thank you so much for posting this, Matt. I am taking my family to Thailand in February, and planned to take my kids on an elephant ride. This story broke my heart. I love animals, and would never support this abuse knowingly. Obviously, I will head for the sanctuary instead. Luckily I found your article in time. I will spread the story as much as possible.

    • For my eighteenth birthday, I will be traveling to Phuket, Thailand. By educating myself on the harm done to these wise animals, I have absolutely no desire to ride one. I would absolutely LOVE to visit your sanctuary when I arrive next month. Thank you so much for informing me. It’s unfortunate that humans would abuse such a beautiful creature just because of their economic motive. I will definitely spread the word! Keep doing what you’re doing! See you in January!

  72. Hi Matthew!

    Thank you so much for this post. I am planning a trip to Thailand and its hard to find “true reviews” stating facts from veterinaries or animal experts. I have a 160lbs Great Dane at home and some humans think their kids can ride my dog as a horse I am always telling them NO. Would they love to have me on their back? I don’t think so…Anyways great review and will definitely put this on my bucket list :)

  73. .So if the Elephants camps are closed,what happens to the Elephants,when using Elephants in logging was banned it lead to a decline in the Elephant population.
    Thailand’s current population of domesticated elephants is about 2,700. After a precipitous decline from about 100,000 domesticated Elephants. Wild elephants in Thailand are very difficult to count given their dense, forested habitat, but most experts would agree there are between 2,000-3,000. In 1989 the Thai government banned all logging in protected areas, effectively closing all remaining natural forests. While undoubtedly a very wise choice, one unfortunate side effect was that it threw many logging elephants out of work. Luckily, that loss coincided with a rapid rise in tourism, which was able to employ many elephants. Today, probably more than half of Thai elephants work in tourism. Disturbingly, some overseas animal rights groups have argued that tourists should not visit elephant camps, claiming it promotes cruelty. In fact, most Thai elephants are very well cared for, partly because most Thai people are intrinsically kind and humane but also because elephants are simply too valuable to abuse. (A beautiful calf or a healthy, young breeding female is worth as much as 700,000 baht or US$22,000.) Although the camp to be visited should be carefully selected, the kindest thing that ethical, elephant-loving tourists can do is to visit a camp and enjoy elephants. Without work in tourism, elephant owners will have no means to care for their animals.

    • Precisely because elephants are so valuable for tourism, babies are ripped from the wild, tortured, and smuggled in from Myanmar to meet the demand. It’s perfectly possible to enjoy elephants without riding them and watching them paint — at a sanctuary, not a trekking camp.

      • thank you for the info, had no idea, it is an eye opener, iam german, living in florida and invited to go to Thailand with my best friend who was born and raised there. I love those creatures and just learn a value lesson.

    • Sadly, I agree that elephants will only survive in Thailand if people can make money from them. And in essence, this means earning money from tourism. However, this does NOT mean that the elephant tourist industry, as it stands at the moment, is the best that we can hope for, and I’m not sure where you get the idea that most elephants are well-treated. They are usually fed and cleaned, but that is as far as it goes. Elephants are long-lived and have complex social systems, which has led them to develop some of the ‘highest’ cognitive skills known in non-human animals. Many of the camps keep elephants chained up which means that they are unable to socialize. Elephants are not able to play, nurture their children, comfort other elephants, or just hang out with their friends, and the psychological effect on them is just as devastating as it would be for humans.
      Matthew also mentioned the phajaan. Almost EVERY elephant you will see in Thailand has been put through this brutal training process. The threat of violence is always there even if a mahout does not often use the hook. Sadly, the use of the hook and other ways of inflicting pain – the nail hidden in the hand, the slingshot in the eye – are common and often not that noticeable, so tourists might not realise what is happening – or else they are told, as the blood trickles down the elephant’s forehead – that ‘elephants have such thick skin that it doesn’t really hurt them’.
      It is worth pointing out here that elephant workers are pretty much the lowest of the low in Thailand. Many of the workers are illegal burmese immigrants that can’t get any other work, and have no previous experience of working with elephants. Of course they are going to use hooks and nails to control the elephants, because they don’t know any other way to protect themselves or to get the 4 ton animal to do what they want.
      ALSO, the back issue, as Matthew mentioned. Elephants’ backs are not designed to carry weight in the middle, where the seats are placed. They cope much better with weight around the neck and shoulders, where mahouts traditionally sit.
      So, I agree that tourism is probably the future for elephants in Thailand. The challenge now is to make it as elephant-friendly as possible. The cool thing is that these elephant-friendly experiences tend to be more authentic and personal, and tourists actually prefer them to circus shows and treks. The ENP has been a pioneer for these types of experiences, but more and more parks are opening up that follow this kind of model. The ENP has also recently started a home-stay program in Surin (the home of elephant training in Thailand) so that Thai families can bring their elephants back from Bangkok, where they were begging to make money. So things are really starting to change, it was quite slow at first but it has really started to move quickly over the last few years.

    • PeterB , wow that was some of the most asinine garbage I have ever read. You have to be either ignorant or just plain stupid to think that animals working in treks overseas would be treated with the utmost respect. They beat these animals within an inch of there lives to protect the paying customer. An animal is very replaceable, injuring tourists will ultimately leave the company out of business not the other way around. Maybe get informed or stop trolling you jackass.

  74. Hi Mat
    I have also experienced ENP and do you realise how much you are helping the elephant by the positive comments you have received here by informing with the bare facts? Awesome work and hopefully more people will read your blog and realise how brutal tourism is for the elephant the way most operators are running their business. A couple of businesses outside Chiang Mai have changed their way of thinking and are now looking after their gentle giants and no more riding.

        • Hello Sarah, I was volunteer at ENP and can help you. You have to buy a flight ticket from your home to Chiang Mai Thailand. The week begins every monday to sunday afternoon and your accodomation for a week is around 300 euros (please convert) . You can stay several weeks more, if you want… you can contact me on fb english french group “Elephants de Thailand et d’ailleurs” or on website “Elephant Nature Park” http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

  75. Hi Matthew,
    I am so grateful to you for posting this. We are going to Thailand next month and I had no prior knowledge of this treatment! I found this post upon looking for a place to ride an elephant, also a dream of mine (as of others that commented above)….but no longer! Thank you for the info and God Bless both you and Lek!!!!

  76. Great read! I always wanted to ride an elephant while I’m in Thailand but after reading this article, I am definitely reconsidering.

  77. Fantastic post Matthew. I’ve also just written a similar post about our experience at ENP. Like you I never realised the suffering elephants have to go through so us humans can ride them and it horrified me to learn the truth. The thing is spending time at ENP and interacting with these majestic beings in a way that doesn’t exploit them made the experience far more meaningful than any elephant ride ever could.

  78. Hello

    Thank you for writing this article, as many dreamers wanting to ride an elephant clueless how they get tamed, I will just enjoy watching and touching them how the Universe created these wonderful giants!


  79. Thank you for the article.Riding an Elephant was on my Bucketlist,but now after reading your article I would never do that.Thank you once again.

  80. Thank you for the article. I absolutely had no idea about what people did to the elephants in order to ride them until I read this. I don’t know about Thailand or other elephants parks that offer elephant riding but I was raised in a place where people used to travel around by elephants and I’m pretty sure that they didn’t torture the elephants or did anything brutal to them but I definitely agree with what you wrote and hope that more and more people know about this.

  81. I’m with ya brother. They have over 40 elephants behind my house at FantaSea that perform in the show. Interesting, they’re all female. That doesn’t bother me.

    I hate to see the elephants walking beside the busy highway carrying people, that gets me.

    Don’t go for elephant rides when you come to Phuket…Please.

  82. I had no idea.

    Thanks for writing Matt. I’ve raised and trained horses and dogs my whole life and just figured elephants were trained the same. I’ve never seen an elephant in the wild or known a trainer. It never occurred to me they were abused. People talk about “breaking” horses, they’re fools; all you have after you break a horse is a broken horse. What you’ve described is unconscionable.

  83. Good article Matt. We were there a few years ago and was a learning experience for us as well. Feeding and washing the elephants was fun, but the craziest thing was watching them all playing in the pond – I wondered if humans were ever put in danger? Because these elephants, especially the young ones, were running around the same way dogs chase each other…and I could just see one of these things accidentally running over a few tourists. Its the only time we got nervous. Other than that was a great time.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  84. Great article. I’m on my way to Thailand and I’ll definitely visit Elephant Nature Park natural sanctuary. Thanks for the tip. Greetings from China!

  85. Thanks so much for this post Matt. I’m currently in Thailand and am getting sick of hearing people telling me how much fun they have had on elephant treks. And then there is the people that are so proud of their photographs with tigers.

    I think some of it nativity but I think some people are happy to put aside any animal welfare concerns to get a photo of themselves to put on Facebook.

    We are planning on visiting ENP when we are in Chaing Mai next month and this post has made me even more excited.