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Elephants & Ethics: Meeting & Protecting Pachyderms

Who doesn’t love elephants? These gray giants hold a prominent place in human hearts, yet tourism has wreaked havoc on elephant populations worldwide. The US, Thailand, India, Cambodia, Nepal, Vietnam, Kenya, South Africa are all included on a long list of countries that have harbored those who mistreat elephants. How can you be sure you are traveling in a way that will protect them?

At Wild Nectar, Conservation is one of our core “SP’s” or one of our top 10 sustainability practices. Conservation means protecting populations in the wild and their habitats, yet it also means our travelers will experience the presence of animals ethically. Elephants are among the most intelligent, socially nuanced, emotionally sensitive animals on the planet. We owe it to them and to ourselves to care for them responsibly. Some of our trips feature opportunities to meet elephant mahouts or visits to elephant sanctuaries. Today let’s consider Thailand and how our Wild Nectar trips interact with elephants there.

Thailand has long been renowned for its lush landscapes, vibrant culture, and its association with elephants. These majestic creatures have played an integral role in the country's history and culture for centuries. Unfortunately, the treatment of elephants in Thailand's tourism industry has been a subject of concern and debate for many years.

While the idea of riding an elephant or watching them perform tricks might seem appealing to some, it's important to understand the dark side of traditional elephant tourism in Thailand. For many years, elephants have been subjected to harsh training methods, cruel living conditions, and overwork to meet the demands of the tourism industry. Many of these magnificent creatures suffer physical and emotional abuse, leading to long-lasting physical and psychological trauma.

Fortunately, there's a growing awareness of the need for ethical treatment of elephants, and several responsible elephant sanctuaries in Thailand have emerged to provide a more compassionate and educational experience for visitors. These sanctuaries prioritize the well-being of elephants over profits and offer travelers an opportunity to observe, interact, and even volunteer with these gentle giants in a way that respects their natural behavior and habitat.

Here are the key elements of an ethical elephant sanctuary:

  • No Riding: Ethical sanctuaries do not offer elephant rides. The practice of riding elephants can cause them physical harm and stress.

  • Natural Habitat: These sanctuaries provide large, natural spaces for elephants to roam freely, ensuring they can engage in natural behaviors like foraging and bathing.

  • No Chains or Hooks: Elephants are not chained or controlled with bullhooks, a cruel instrument used in traditional training methods.

  • Bathing and Feeding: Visitors are encouraged to observe and participate in activities like bathing and feeding the elephants, allowing for a more authentic and respectful interaction.

  • Educational Focus: Ethical sanctuaries prioritize educating visitors about the plight of elephants and the importance of conservation efforts.

We work with several tour operators in Asia yet I wanted to share the ethical statement of the operator we plan our custom programs with in Thailand, like this Iconic Thailand: Bangkok, Bright Waters & Tranquility program:

[Our custom operator in Asia] “strongly supports the livelihood and well-being of all animals, both big and small, across all of our destinations and beyond. Our itineraries do not promote elephant rides, camel rides, sightseeing of caged animals, or sightseeing of animals removed from their natural habitat. Instead, we offer sanctuary and national park visits that allow our travelers to experience amazing wildlife in Asia and the South Pacific within their natural environment.”

When you travel with Wild Nectar, you can rest assured that the animals you see are living good lives. Are you ready to visit elephants in their natural habitat or who are being cared for and rehabilitated in sanctuaries? Contact us. We’d love to help you meet these powerful, noble, and sensitive creatures.


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