Thai elephant is the national animal and the royal symbol of Thailand. It is regarded as guardian angel of the country. Long time ago, Thailand has had more than 90% forest coverage and thousands of elephants lived there. Along with the development of logging industry, the forest decreased dramatically. The ideal living environment of elephant was damaged seriously and with the help of poaching, in the beginning of the 20th century, there were over 300, 000 elephants and 100, 000 domesticated elephants in Thailand, but until the year of 2007, there were an estimated 3,456 domesticated elephants and about 1,000 wild ones. Thai elephant has become endangered animal.
Government actions to protect elephants in Thailand
Thai people has a quite long time closed relationship with the elephants. They loved elephants and domesticated them to help them to do the heave work. They also followed the Siam King went on expeditions. They were the symbol of honor, dignity and the strength. As time went on, Thai elephants became transport of logging during the peak period of logging industry in Thailand. More and more huge old trees were cut down, then large areas of virgin forest disappeared. The government of Thailand found the serious problem of the forest decline and issued the law to ban the logging and protect the forest. From then on, the elephants and their mahouts had lost their jobs. Without the stable income, it is really a huge burden to the mahouts to maintain the elephants’ life. Although the Thai elephant is smaller than other Asian elephants, it eats about 100 kilos of food. Elephants and mahouts have stuck into life and economic crisis. The wild and the domesticated elephants’ life were both under threat. In order to feed the elephants, mahouts had to find other ways to make living. So the elephants were trained to learn acrobatic and perform to entertain visitors in circus and zoos. The lots of works of elephant were replaced by modern machines, the elephants did not take an important role in people’s life as before to the young generations. With the sharp cutoff of the population, Thai elephants were threatened by extinction.
All of above caused the attention of Thai government and animal welfare experts around the world. The action of protecting Thai elephants has already started. The government is preparing a draft law to require every captive elephant birth registered and an ID card would be given. In addition, instructions were issued to collect DNA samples from every captive elephant in the country to establish a comprehensive database of their genetic information. The law also requires mahouts who work in elephant camps to gain a license, and owners of the camp have to get the permit for operating from the Department of National Parks and the permit must be renewed every three years, and submit to inspections. Many elephant sanctuaries have been established to rescue the injured wild elephants and the retailed domesticated elephants and let them enjoy their rest of lives.
As the largest mammal in the world, an elephant can eat up to 100 kilos food and spend 18-20 hours on eating every day. Only providing enough food for the elephants is a huge expense. The elephant sanctuaries in Thailand really need finances to support their projects. That is why they welcome volunteers from aboard who can afford to pay their ‘voluntourism’ prices. Volunteering can be rewarding and crucial to conservation of endangered elephants. It provides a stream of income for the owners of the sanctuaries to maintain the elephants lives and have money to purchase the elephants from circuses or other places where elephants are abused, in the meanwhile, volunteers can interact with elephants in a healthy, safe way and learn spread the knowledge of protecting elephants and introduce more people to take part in the protection of elephants. The elephant volunteer programs also can encourage other elephant owners to consider more humane lifestyles for their elephants once they see ethical elephant experiences can make profit.
With the development of tourism industry in Thailand, millions of tourists travelling to the kingdom every year, a captive elephant will be high on their wish list. We appeal to all the tourist away from elephant riding, trekking, performance watching and abuse if you are interested in supporting the Thai elephant protection.
UME Travel have already refined our own stance on elephant tourism over the last few years. We do not promote any elephant performances, riding or any other types of unnatural behavior programs for tourists.
We list some excellent elephant sanctuaries below with volunteer projects where you can contribute your time to work for elephants in Thailand.
- Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation located near Chiang Mai, where you can volunteer and visit to help. It provides a natural environment for elephants, buffaloes and many other animals. Many travelers have been volunteers there. It is the most notable park in Thailand and they are often booked months in advance. It takes in disabled, blind and orphaned elephants and helps other elephant owners in Southeast Asia implement more ethical treatment of the elephants. It provides several week-long volunteer opportunities experiences where you will take part it hands-on conservation work. You will prepare food, feed, watch the elephants bathe in the river and even scoop elephant poo. You will walk the elephants with the mahouts in the natural area. You will also learn about the difficult position of elephants in Thailand or participate in cultural activities. Vets and qualified animal medical specialists are invited to provide their highly skilled aid.
- Elephant World
It is a self-supporting Environmental Conservation Organization, situated outside the town of Kanchanaburi, Thailand. It takes care of the daily needs of about 30 elephants and offer Eco-travelers the experience an up-close and personal encounter with these majestic creatures. Their volunteer programs range from a single day visit to the Mahout Experience of a week of more and their slogan is “Where we work for the elephants, not the elephant for us.” Their mission is to provide the best possible for the elephants, staff and visitors and strive to make every moment of the visitors spent with them educational, enjoyable and wish to play a part to conservation program.
- The Surin Project
Located in northeast of Thailand, The Surin Project cooperate with the government in the village of Ban Tha Klang to operate Surin Elephant Study Center which is home to a Gwi community. The center has 180 Asian elephants and 200 mahouts. The Surin Project is dedicated to provide sustainable living conditions for 12 elephants a time. Surin also has volunteer programs which encourage volunteers to stay at Surin for anywhere from 1-8 weeks. They will use the income of the volunteer and donations to maintain the lives of the elephants and conserve elephant population. When you volunteer in Surin, you will learn the contradictions between elephant conservation and the tourism development. You will also have chance to walk with mahouts alongside the Thai elephants in the natural surroundings.
- Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project located approximately 60km from the city of Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. Founded in July 2014, it is a joint initiative between members of the Karen hill-tribes and Chiang Mai locals who were concerned about the welfare of elephants in Thailand. It has branches in Phuket, Pattaya, Samui. It is a non-profit organization. Their care project aims to do extracurricular activities that either directly benefits the plight of domestic elephants, or, the communities where the elephants are being housed, i.e. schools, women empowerment programs, education program. The sanctuary provides Half day, Full day, Exclusive One Day Walk with Elephants and Overnight Stay options to visit our sanctuary. You will prepare food, feed, bath and even play with the elephants.
Read more: Elephant Tours in Thailand