top of page
  • Writer's pictureSander


Updated: Jun 21, 2022

The Thai elephant is the official national animal of Thailand and for centuries has been an important part of the country's history – from royal parades to being used in war and logging.

Today, the now endangered elephant is a national emblem with its image appearing on Thai’s stamps, coins, the Navy flag, architecture and artwork. The name of the popular beer, Chang, translates to elephant.

Thailand even has its own day to celebrate the revered animal - in 1998, the Thai government declared March 13 as Thai National Elephant Day.

Despite being Thailand’s national symbol, elephants have suffered heavily in recent decades. Around a hundred years ago there were at least 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Nowadays this number is only 3000-4000 and just half of them live in the wild.

The biggest problem has been deforestation from illegal logging and expanding developments, such as construction of resorts and roads, which means wild elephants face natural habitat loss and are forced into close contact with humans. Also illegal poaching for tusks and calves contributes to the population decline.

After logging was banned in 1989, most captive elephants were moved into tourism or entertainment industries. As elephant entertainment, such as riding or watching them performing tricks at the shows, became more popular among tourists, the demand for captive elephants has grown.

Unfortunately there is other and darker side for all of this - most often elephants in tourism industries are kept in bad and abusive conditions – not enough nutritious food and water, spending most of the days in shorts chains, have to hold steel or wooden saddles and the saddest part, they could have been tortured from young age to start learning tricks and perform as their owners want to.

This pain and fear situation will vary them down mentally and physically. Although there have been lots of positive movements towards ending this kind of elephant mistreatment, this kind of cruelty still exists in the world. As long as there is demand, there will always be an offering.

For most elephants, being released back into the wild is not possible, so an elephant friendly camp is their best option. These camps work on an observation-only model, still providing jobs and a valuable income to local people. Elephants are given the freedom to roam, graze and bathe while socializing with each other.

In this blog post I will share my experience of visiting one of the sanctuary and rescue centres for elephants in Thailand – Elephant Nature Park.

Elephant Nature Park is a unique project set in Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand. Established in 1990’s their aim has always been to provide a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. The Park is located around 60 kilometres from the City and has provided help for lots of elephants from all over Thailand.

By our tour guide there are currently 111 elephants. In addition to elephants they host cats, dogs, buffaloes and many other rescued species on the site.

From 2018 elephant bathing is prohibited as it is the next phase of offering elephants a chance to live as natural life as possible. Elephant Nature Park has built an observation platform overlooking the Taeng river where you can witness elephants bathing in their natural environment. It is a fantastic photo opportunity and educational experience seeing the elephants behaving naturally.

Day of Elephant Nature Park visit started with morning hotel pick-up and van arrived there around 10am. After paying an entrance fee for 2500 Baht per person and stretching legs, our group of 6 people and guide was ready to adventure the Park.

First part of the day went really quickly as we were walking around the Park, meeting different elephants and listening stories about their heartbreaking past.

Every elephant has their own mahout, shortly trainer or keeper, whom they have been together with for a longer period and managed to create a trustful bond. I have heard that some mahouts always wear the same clothes around their elephant, so they will know it is a trustworthy person. We also managed to give the elephants some treats from nature.

Many of the animals have been severely injured previously and have big emotional instability, they are treated now in Elephant Nature Park. Some of the elephants are totally blind or can see only with one eye.

Average elephant needs around 200-300 kg of food and 100-200 litres of water on a daily basis. Currently most of the animals are brought to the sanctuary from the tourism industry – trekking, performing tricks at the shows, riding. Due to Covid 19 and no income for a longer period of time for businesses, owners don’t have resources anymore to take care of them. In addition to that many of the elephants have been rescued from laboring camps, mainly logging.

After meeting the first elephants of the Park we briefly went to see rescued dogs and their shelters. Lots of different breeds and most of them looked as happy as ever. They had enough free space to play and run around, also every dog had their own bed. Many dogs have been rescued from floods or their owner has passed away.

Suddenly it was lunch and relaxing time – plentiful and so delicious vegetarian buffet, different choices for everyone.

Second part of the day we went to see some more elephants and buffaloes. As one of the animals had a birthday, park workers had created a traditional fruit bouquet for her to enjoy.

We managed to talk with some of the mahouts as well, for example one of the elephants was kept in such bad and stressful conditions, mostly without nutritious food and water, that her breasts decreased drastically and her daughter sometimes needed to take milk from another mother elephant.

Last stop in the park was an observation platform overlooking the Taeng river where some of the elephants were playing in the water.

Finishing touch for this emotional day was a cat rescue centre. I’m not sure if I have seen so many cats in my life. Everyone has their own bed and there is lots of space to play and do other activities. We arrived just for feeding time and it was interesting to see so many cats eating at the same time from their own plate.

Elephant Nature Park is also offering different options for volunteering from walking dogs to taking care of elephants. If you would like to get more information about it – Click here.

Having spent full day close to these amazing elephants and seeing their natural behavior, it is difficult to understand what they have gone through being mistreated and sometimes even tortured years after years. I feel it is quite impossible to describe this experience as one has to see and feel it.

After seeing pictures of elephants in their previous conditions, it was heartwarming to see them roaming happily around the Nature Park and forget their past sufferings. I am happy that I had a chance to visit this amazing place and learn more about these beautiful animals.

Visit also YOUR TOUR DESK for daily trips in Bangkok.

479 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page