Towards more responsible elephant tourism in Thailand

Elephants are an important part of Thai history and culture. Traditionally they symbolise royal power, and feature prominently in Buddhist art and architecture. They are hugely appealing creatures that fascinate people of all ages and backgrounds, so it’s not surprising that interacting with elephants has become popular on tourists’ Thailand travel itineraries. However, this has also become a controversial issue due to concerns about animal welfare.

While some believe that elephants should not be part of the tourism industry, elephant-related activities form part of hundreds of thousands of visitors’ Thailand holiday experiences every year while contributing to the livelihood of the Thai people who run the activities as well as providing a sanctuary for rescued and sick elephants.

It’s a topic that always raises a passionate debate.


The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) believes that all elephant-related tourism should be conducted in a humane and responsible manner and we know, from tourist feedback and various research, that the majority of operators treat their animals well in terms of food, facilities and veterinary care. It is important that those operators who do abuse animals should be prosecuted – their actions are totally unacceptable.

The Thai government has initiatives in place such as the National Master Plan for the Conservation of Elephants managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (Thailand) with the collaboration of both the public and private sector, and together their aim is to improve the operational standards of elephant-related businesses, including elephant camps, mahouts, as well as enforcing regulations.

Conservation-led elephant tourism

Significantly, earlier this year, UK-based tour operators STA Travel and Intrepid Travel announced they will no longer run tours in Thailand that included elephant rides. This pro-active step to promote responsible tourism is very good news.

If you want to get up close and personal with these wonderful creatures, we believe that you’ll have a much more memorable and enriching experience by visiting one of the many conservation-led centres or camps, where you can learn about elephants, feed them – and even bathe them.

It’s well worth doing some research into elephant conservation centres while you plan your Thailand holiday itinerary. There are some fantastic and inspiring elephant conservation projects being run in Thailand which welcome engagement with volunteers and tourists.

Here are a few to get you started:

Elephant Hills in Khao Sok National Park, Surat Thani. Winner of our Thailand Green Excellence Award 2014, Elephant Hills are continually developing their elephant experience and have built bigger pens for the elephants and don’t use chains so that they can roam more freely but safely in the jungle.

Here’s a short video of what you can expect at Elephant Hills:

Anantara Elephant Camp, Chiang Rai

Anantara Elephant Camp, Chiang Rai, Thailand. Photo credit:

Anantara Elephant Camp, Chiang Rai, Thailand. Photo credit:

The Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC), Lampang

As well as providing a home for 50 Asia elephants, TECC also proudly looks after six of HM King Bhumibol’s ten white elephants in the Royal Elephant Stables.

Baby elephant being fed at TECC, Thailand. Photo credit:

Baby elephant being fed at TECC, Thailand. Photo credit:

Elephant’s World, Kanchanaburi

Elephant's World, Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Photo credit:

Elephant’s World, Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Photo credit:

If you’re wondering what it’s like to visit one of these elephant sanctuaries Roy Cavanagh recently visited Elephant’s World in Kanchanaburi and wrote about his experience on his great blog Thaizer Thailand. Here’s a quote from his opening paragraph:

“Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some memorable moments in Thailand… But my recent visit to [Elephant’s World] produced special memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. And I’ve got an elderly lady to thank for that. A wrinkly, ever-so-slightly hairy septuagenarian with no teeth, a big belly and a cataract in her eye. I think I’ve found my soul-mate. Let me introduce you to Songkran and her friend.”