Exploring Thailand: How to Know If You are Visiting an Unethical Elephant Sanctuary

In both Africa and Asia, elephants have suffered some of the cruelest fates at the hands of their respective human population. While in countries like India, the mistreatment continues without significant intervention from the government, the Thai people have taken a different approach. They have managed to save the population of domesticated elephants from abuse by building elephant sanctuaries where they can live happily within a protected environment, while travelers can enjoy the company of the majestic creatures there.

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Unfortunately, not all elephant sanctuaries in Thailand are really “sanctuaries,” as some of them continue to abuse the domesticated elephant population in them. To know which of the many elephant sanctuaries in Thailand you should support and which ones to stay away from, learn to read the signs which we will discuss next.

The Sanctuary Offers Elephant Rides

Any elephant sanctuary or safari that advertises elephant rides is a place to be avoided in general and not just in Thailand. As one may imagine, elephants are generally not keen on carrying people and luggage on their backs, so they are tortured and trained, until they oblige to do so.

No elephant sanctuary designed to care and protect these magnificent animals will offer elephant rides. Take the Phuket elephant tour offered at the famous Phuket Elephant Jungle Sanctuary for example, which will let visitors interact with adult elephants and their adorable babies, take photos with them, pet them and learn more about the beautiful creatures, but they will never let anyone ride them.

The Elephants are in Chains

An elephant in chains is a sign of an elephant being abused, so if you see anything like that, steer away. A real sanctuary doesn’t put their elephants in chains under normal circumstances, and they are free to roam within the territory as they please.

The Elephants Look Unhappy

Elephants are not just big, they are also very intelligent and sentient beings with IQ levels comparable to that of the dolphin and even modern primates. In the wild, they can self-medicate and administer medication to their offspring and other group members. Therefore, if they are unhappy, it will be evident in their behavior and you will recognize the depression just by looking at them. Lethargic body movements, disinterest, displaying only trained behavioral patterns, etc. are all signs of an unethical elephant sanctuary and sad elephants.

The Elephants Greeting You Look Unhealthy and Malnourished

Unhealthiness and malnourishment are signs that often go hand-in-hand with the signs of unhappiness we just discussed. Elephants are big creatures and they need a lot of balanced sustenance on a daily basis to stay healthy, so, if you find the elephants in the sanctuary to be particularly skinny, with scars near their ankles or anywhere else, recognize it to be a bad place for the gentle giants.

The only way to reduce elephant abuse and experience some of the best moments of your life with these grand creatures is to visit an ethical sanctuary and support their earnest efforts. Now that you know how to recognize abusive elephant sanctuaries in Thailand from the ethical ones, use that knowledge to enjoy the company of elephants and actually help them have a better future.

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