Everything You Need To Know About Ethical Elephant Tourism In Thailand
How to ensure you book with a humane tour provider
The ethics around elephant riding tours in Thailand have been a hot button issue in the travel industry for years. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has long advocated for an outright ban on elephant interactions, however the practice continues to this day across much of Southeast Asia.
A recent New York Times article has put Thailand tours with elephants back in the spotlight, with experts suggesting that new policies enforcing how the animals are treated in captivity may make more sense than trying to outlaw interactions outright.
A new program created by the Captive Elephant Welfare Initiative offers certification for elephant camp operators that submit to detailed, regular inspections auditing everything from their elephants’ diet and medical care to the pay and training offered to the mahouts who devote their lives to an elephant’s care. A group called Travelife for Tour Operators has gone one step further, with the creation of a rating program, which provides financial incentives to camps that properly care for their animals.
Elephants remain an important part of Thailand’s tourism offering, and several camps do offer humane interactions that limit direct contact. So if you do want to interact with the country’s captive elephants, how do you make sure you’re doing so in the most ethical way possible? Sean Hebert, Director of Sales for Kensington Tours’ Asia/Pacific department explains.
What are some common humane ways you can interact with elephants in Thailand?
“Any traveler seeking a humane elephant interaction should ensure that the facilitator of that interaction is treating the animal well, and prioritizing ethical and sustainable practices over profit,” says Hebert. “We seek to replace exploitation with education, arranging a hands-on experience that teaches travelers how to gauge an elephant’s temperament, approach it correctly, help with its feeding and bathing, check its health, and most critically, learn how to communicate with these animals to build a meaningful, trusting relationship.” Kensington Tours’ customizable journey to Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Krabi features a particularly spectacular visit to the world’s first hospital for elephants.
Why has Kensington Tours chosen to partner with Khiri as its tour provider in Thailand?
“Social and environmental sustainability are core values that both Khiri and Kensington share, and our mutual desire to be mindful about how we design or audit any interaction our travelers have with local people or animals make us ideal partners,” Hebert explains. “The team at Khiri is always focused on finding ways for tourism to create positive change in the communities we visit, and at Kensington, our own commitment to that cause isn’t just lip service – it’s what our travelers expect.”
What assurances can Kensington Tours offer clients around ethical animal interactions?
“Observing or engaging with animals up close is a major reason that our travelers choose to leave home, and we appreciate that they seek out Kensington to determine how best to avoid working with an exploitative operator,” Hebert shares. “As the curator of these experiences we seek to create opportunities for learning, and do wish to get our travelers close enough to the animals and their caretakers to make it abundantly clear that ethical treatment and conservation are so critical. Our own research never stops, and we’re always eager to learn about new groups and initiatives like Travelife for Tour Operators so we can better promote responsible tourism.”
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