Last update: July 30, 2018
The entry fees for Elephant Parks
The Elephant parks and sanctuaries have a wide range of entry fees. Most of the parks have a hotel pick-up and transport included, and the typical cost of an ethical park starts at about 2500 baht for a one day visit. Some ethical parks are more expensive; up to 5000 or 6000 baht for a full day. You don't have to go for one of the large, popular parks; the smaller sanctuaries can be a more intimate experience, and sometimes cheaper as well.
Ethical elephant parks cost more.
Comparison chart of entry fee for day tours to all types of elephant parks.
The strange fact is that the popular parks are not the cheaper ones as one would expect; many of the smaller sanctuaries are cheaper than the big name parks.
Whether you want to go to a Mahout Park, a sanctuary, a rescue park, a Karen tribe supported park; it's all up to you. If you put in the effort of doing some research before deciding where to go;your money will be well spent and go to a good cause.
Big parks, Big animals, Big bucks.
Cheap visits to Elephant Parks (or cheaper vists).
The comparison chart above is based on entry fees for full-day tours; but most parks also offer half day visits. And these tours are all-in; they include transport from your hotel. If you can arrange your own transport then you can make a lot cheaper visits; though many parks such as Patara and ENP are closed to walk in visitors and only offer complete all-in tours. The pick-up service and transport is part of their business model.
But there are more ethical parks than just the few big and popular ones, for example Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and Elephant Rescue Park. Some of the less ethical parks are quite cheap and have walk-in rates, like Maesa Elephant Camp and some of the camps in Mae Taeng; and a few parks can even be visited for no fee at all. The cost of visiting one of these elephant camps can be just a few hundred baht; plus the cost of renting a scooter or a car. The only potentially major drawback: you have to rent transport, and you have to find out where these parks are.
Elephant health - Weaving.
Let's start off with the mental health of elephants; which must have an influence on their physical health. One of the signs of their mental health is very obvious for anyone to see; some elephants display a rocking, swaying motion: Weaving. Animals in the wild are active day and night looking for food and water; in captivity they get bored and start a monotonous movement like pacing or swinging their head. Lions, tigers and large cats in cages behave the same: they start pacing back and forth in their small cages to vent energy and frustration. Asian zoos are quite backward and usually have very small cages for animals; for example the Yogyakarta zoo has a tiger in a space the size of a garage. The poor tiger stuck in there hasn't even the space to pace up and down. If you are an animal lover you should probably avoid visiting Asian zoos.
Weaving is a type of movement caused by boredom and frustration. Once a bored elephant starts "weaving" it is difficult and usually impossible to stop this behavior. Elephant parks should create enough space and activities to give their elephants a meaningful life. Let's be straight here, they are not going back to the wild or to logging trees, there is hardly any wilderness left in Thailand and no trees to cut or move; those times are long gone.
A large, majestic bull elephant.
The riddle ... a rumble in the jungle?
On tourism forums there are frequent questions about which elephant camp to choose; and which one is more ethical than others. One common advice is "Don't ride an elephant because you'll damage it's spine" and recommend one specific elephant park. Others member object and recommend other camps or parks. These debates usually end in a lot of emotions, quickly leading to flaming and trumpeting, and some contributors conclude that all elephant parks are evil, ethical or not. One or two weeks later the charade repeats itself as a new participant asks a recommendation on elephant parks.
Many people claim that just stopping elephant riding will solve all problems, and ignore the need for medical care, professional mahouts, and the many other things that elephants need in daily life.
Is the "spinal damage" a fact or a Rumble in the Jungle? I'm not quite convinced by the "rule of thumb" solution to all elephant problems: stopping the riding. Horses probably suffer much more from their riders' weight than elephants, but people still ride horses.
Is all elephant riding bad, or just using saddles? And riding mahout style, what about that? Should we prohibit all elephant riding, or perhaps only do mahout style riding?
Elephants in loei province, 1898.
The Riddle is ... for more than a 1000 years captive elephants have been used for logging, transporting people and even warfare. Where is the evidence on the damage to elephant spines or vertebrae when riding them? Where are the photos? When this "spine damage" is so common why is there no information about it anywhere on the internet? Elephants can suffer many diseases; for example foot disease and arthritis are quite common; they are often caused by standing on the concrete floors. The only mention of "spine damage" however is on some Elephant Parks' leaflets; actual spine damage occurs only very rarely.
Is the solution to put them in a retirement park and let them do nothing? One of the most famous parks was evaluated in 2011 by Elephant Aid International.
They found that Elephants who spend all day standing in one area with little activity have seriously overgrown and decaying nails and pads. Many elephants had serious foot health issues. The straightforward report with recommendations is here: Enp_Report2011.pdf.
The number of Daft Dumbo tales that are being told is quite amazing. My point is that the "Don't ride an elephant" argument is somewhat narrow minded; one has to look at the bigger picture. That bigger picture includes the treatment and health of the elephants:
- Are the elephants chained all day or just at night?
- Are the mahouts experienced and well-trained?
- Do the elephants get good medical care?
- Do they have room to move around and interact; can they take a stroll?
- Do they have some occupation to prevent boredom and "weaving"?
The first point - unchaining them - is relatively easy to fix. The last point may be more difficult to implement - elephants in parks have no meaningful occupation and don't have to search for food and water. And by the way, real elephant experts - professional keeprs - point out that the howdah does not touch the elephants' spine at all. The howdah is the lightweight wooden or bamboo saddle which rests on the ribcage of the elephant, not on it's spine!
We do not approve of elephant abuse (joke ;-)
(stop elephant riding funny cartoon)
The future for Asian elephants.
The Asian elephant may be going the way of the tiger: there are globally more tigers in captivity than in the wild. In Thailand the captive elephant population is 3500 to 4000; the number of wild elephants is between 3000 and 3700. In the 1800s there were still around 100.000 elephants in Thailand!
In Southeast Asia the majority of elephants are captive and used for logging or tourism parks and camps. For example in Laos less than 1300 wild elephants remain. Whether we like it or not, the future of Asian elephants may be for a large part in elephant conservation camps with some kind of entertainment for tourists; and an occupation or activity for elephants as well.
Elephant population in SE-asia.
In Vietnam the captive elephant population has declined over the past 25 year from about 600 in 1980 to 165 today. Because wild elephants are so close to total extinction; the government of Vietnam has started a National Elephant Action Plan. In Cambodia the estimate of the wild population is between 400-600 elephants.
Burma’s wild elephant numbers have dropped dramatically over the past 50 years and appear to still be in decline. In 2004 the Smithsonian convened a workshop of elephant experts in Myanmar; their conclusion was that possibly less than 2000 elephants remain in the wild. (Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute report: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/SCBI )
There's not just bad news, mistreatment was far more prevalent in the logging industry than in touristic elephant parks. In Thailand many tourists are prepared to pay more for the rescue and conservation parks. The larger parks let elephants roam around or trek, and ENP is now building an enclosure to keep elephants at night without chains.
Elephant crossing. In Chiang Mai elephants have always right-of-way.
Elephant Conservation-Based Tourism in Myanmar.
For hundreds of years elephants helped extract teak and hardwoods from Burmese jungles that even modern machinery cannot penetrate. The new Government of Myanmar has set a temporary national logging ban in 2016 and a 10-year logging ban in the Pegu Yoma region. It is good news for Myanmars nature and forests but a major problem for the 5500 captive elephants.
Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE) is planning to develop Elephant Conservation-Based
Tourism; and it has so far opened 18 elephant camps across the country, with some 205 elephants. They plan to develop elephant camps for 3000 "unemployed" elephants. The admission fee for foreigner to the elephant parks is is 20.000 Kyats which is only 15 US dollars, which is seems like a steal compared to elephant parks in Thailand.
One of the older ethical parks for retired timber logging elephants, already opened in 2011, is Green Hill Valley camp near Kalaw (www.ghvelephant.com)
More on Elephant parks in Myanmar: myanmar.htm
South-east Asia's forests are disappearing.
Facts, Facts and more Elephant Facts.
Here are some links to scientific reports and factual information on elephant health and rehabilitation. This is not promotion from elephant parks but research by independent organizations. The Wikipedia information is done by volunteers and can be quite subjective.
Mae Taeng elephant clinic.
This clinic is run by MaeTaeng elephant park.
Reports and statistics on elephant health and welfare.
Reports from elephant parks.
Blogs, news and information on elephants
Tripadvisor reviews of parks.
An elephant by a Chiang Mai artist.
Any comments or improvements? Please mail me at : bytelife AT gmail.com
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DISCLAIMER: No responsibility is taken for the accuracy and reliability of the information provided. The author is not connected to any elephant park, camp, ot tour organization.
All foto's and text Copyright © 2017 Rolf Schierbeek