Yesterday, David and I travelled to Lampang to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. This government affiliated organization can be referred to as “The Best of the Worst”. It offers riding and has an elephant show, but they set the standards for elephant tourism throughout Thailand. I wasn’t happy with what I saw, which made me really horrified at what some of the worst of the worst elephant tourist attractions in Thailand must be like.
The elephants at TECC have access to water and didn’t show any visible physical signs of abuse. The mahouts were carrying ankuses/bullhooks with just one sharp point, not two, and I only saw them use the non-pointy ends. The show featured them bowing, pulling logs, throwing balls into baskets, but no one was forced to do headstands or stand on balls.
The riding was conducted on chairs, not on necks, which was disappointing as chairs are very bad for elephants’ backs. However, they were allowed to stop for drinks, which isn’t the case in many camps.
The worst was seeing the baby elephant, with pink clips in her hair, stereotyping constantly, which I caught on video. Three of the bigger elephants had obviously bonded and were reassuring one another throughout the show with trunks in mouths. These things indicate stress and trauma, and are very worrying.
Unfortunately, our visit was short, so there was only so much we could see. I’d like to return there with Katherine the next time I am in Thailand, as she volunteered there for 2.5 years and would be able to take me inside the stables, hospital, etc.
I will just say this- please do not ride elephants. Do not support elephant camps. TECC does a lot of good for elephants in Thailand, but they could be doing much more. If you want to experience elephants, please choose very carefully, and choose a sanctuary. This goes for the whole world, not just Thailand.