Aussie star shines a light on elephant-friendly travel

26 September 2019

Susie Porter is an award-winning actor, animal activist and World Animal Protection ambassador. For World Tourism Day, September 27, she gave us a personal account of her recent visit to ChangChill in Thailand.

“I’ve been an animal lover since I was a kid. My mum was a great influencer in this area and our home was always open to rescue animals of all shapes and sizes.

However, before I joined World Animal Protection as a wildlife ambassador, I was unaware of the horrors elephants experience for tourist entertainment.

There are many animal welfare issues where the cruelty is obvious – dog culling; bear baiting; whaling – but with elephant rides, shows and washing, the horrors are hidden.

It’s been almost two months since I spent a sunny afternoon in the hills outside Chaing Mai. But the experience of watching the elephants just being elephants hasn’t left me.

I visited a new type of elephant venue: ChangChill (meaning “relaxed elephants”). With the help of World Animal Protection and some leading travel companies, it recently changed from a traditional elephant camp that once allowed elephant washing and riding to become truly elephant-friendly.

The change at ChangChill allows their six female elephants the freedom to roam the hills, eat all day, and mud bathe, while socialising with each other. A significant change and improvement from the logging and entertainment jobs they formerly performed.

Elephant at ChangChill elephant sanctuary in Thailand

For an elephant to do anything for humans, its spirit is broken in a process known as the “crush”.

It’s difficult to describe the wonder of seeing an elephant meander across a hill in the afternoon sun. Having only seen elephants in captivity before, it left me speechless.

As elephants are so intelligent and share so many of the same emotions we humans do, I find their suffering hard to endure. I knew I had to be a voice for these gentle giants.

Sadly, my elephant experience isn’t the norm. Thailand is an elephant tourism hotspot and most people visit traditional camps that allow rides.

If you don’t have a chance to see elephants in the wild, I can’t recommend visiting a genuine elephant-friendly venue highly enough. By prohibiting humans from directly interacting with the elephants – like at ChangChill – you have a fantastic opportunity to see elephants as they should be.

Really, it’s just about becoming more aware of the cruelty by educating yourself and others. Once we know the truth, we can do better to create an elephant-friendly future.

My hope is that one day the only elephants we’ll be able to see are elephants living wild and free.

On World Tourism Day, my advice to travellers is simple. Do your research and know what your dollars are supporting.  What looks like fun, may be animal exploitation. Choose to see elephants in the wild or genuine elephant-friendly venues.”

As elephants are so intelligent and share so many of the same emotions we humans do, I find their suffering hard to endure. I knew I had to be a voice for these gentle giants.