Admiring wildlife from afar: Thai venue pioneers elephant-friendly transition
Happy Elephant Care Valley in Chiang Mai is shifting away from cruelty and becoming an elephant-friendly attraction. Together with some of the world’s most influential travel companies, we’re working to push the landmark transition forward.
This move will end all contact between tourists and elephants at the camp, to help meet the growing demand for responsible elephant experiences. This big step for elephants is all thanks to our coalition of travel industry leaders, which includes TUI Group, The Travel Corporation, Intrepid Group, G Adventures, EXO Travel, Thomas Cook Group, and others.
We're grateful for the generous financial support from TUI Care Foundation, which has helped us reach this significant milestone.
Elephants are wild animals that can only be tamed, not domesticated. Attractions that allow interaction between tourists and elephants use cruel, coercive methods such as bullhooks to keep the animals under control.
But at elephant-friendly venues, elephants are kept at a safe distance, so bullhooks are not needed.
Happy new lives
Until recently, Happy Elephant Care Valley allowed tourists to ride the elephants. This stopped after the owners were reassured by the tour operators that tourists are becoming less accepting of activities like this, and want to see elephants be elephants. With the transition, the venue will no longer allow tourists to bath and feed the elephants.
Our travel industry coalition was the catalyst of this change. In September 2017, we presented a business case together, demonstrating the fact that tourists are becoming increasingly aware of the cruelty behind elephant rides and shows, and that the demand for ethical tourism is rising.
The transition will allow the elephants to be free to behave as they would in the wild; free to roam the valley, graze, and bathe in mud, dust, and water. And tourists can experience the wonder from a safe distance.
The newly transitioned venue is likely to open in early 2019.
Attitudes are changing
Many venues across Thailand still offer elephant rides. If you can ride an elephant, it means the animal has suffered a cruel and intensive training process to become submissive enough to carry you in the heat, day in, day out.
A 2017 study by research company Kantar showed that the number of people who find elephant riding acceptable dropped by 9% in just three years, from 53% to 44%. It also showed that 80% of tourists would prefer to see elephants in their natural environment. This proves elephant-friendly tourism is on the rise.
Our CEO Steve McIvor said: “With the support of the world’s leading travel companies, this agreement is a significant milestone for World Animal Protection. It will show that high welfare venues for elephants can be commercially viable for elephant camp owners, encouraging them to value and care for their animals.
“Happy Elephant Care Valley is a ground-breaking development for both elephants and tourists. It will be a very real example of an attraction where tourists can see elephants behaving naturally and freely as part of a herd. It will demonstrate that elephant-friendly experiences are possible, without forcing cruel interactions with people.”