Elephant Parks in Thailand

The Story behind the Story

by Steve Kramer

Baby Elephant in Chiang Mai Elephants do not make good house pets. Too hard to housebreak. But they are a delightful creature with which to interact! Best to interact with them in Elephant Camps and Conservation Parks though. Lots more room, and other folks to clean up the mess... And... Pay for the food! Elephants eat a lot. Much more than hamsters and goldfish. And someone has to pay for that food. Who should it be? In today’s economy and ecology, who is responsible for the elephant?

Back in the day, elephants were used as farming animals, just like oxen and plow horses. They farmed trees because they were big enough to pull the weight of a large tree better than a team of oxen. Elephants were used all over India, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, etc., because the jungles there supplied the world’s demand for exotic timber. The elephants earned their keep the same way a team of 20 mules pulled wagon-loads of borax out of the Nevada deserts until steam power was able to replace them more economically. Same thing happened in Asia too, and in fact, laws were even passed to prevent the use of elephants for lumbering! But somebody still has to feed them... Like people, if you don’t work, you don’t get fed.

The answer is simple. Let them be animals again, just like our dogs, cats, horses, hamsters, birds, etc., and play with us humans. Help us entertain each other. We humans are more than willing to help feed our pets. That’s never been an issue. Northern Thailand has several excellent Elephant Camps and Elephant Conservation Centers that are doing a great job of maintaining healthy animals and rehabilitating elephants that have been rescued from abusive owners. They get plenty of food, plenty of interactive attention, and good medical care. But that takes money.

Animals are fun, and love to play with humans, do tricks, and just ‘be with’ people. So do horses, cats, hamsters, and birds. All animals, people included, love to play, and elephants are no different... except for size, perhaps. Does it ‘humiliate’ Fido when he plays fetch or rolls over? Is Tabby shammed at the fact that she’ll chase a laser dot around and around the room? Of course not! Nor would it humiliate an elephant to kick a soccer ball or paint a picture. Why should it? Animals like to play! Animals like to interact with people. And when they perform, they are earning their own keep, earning money to buy food and money to pay Vet bills.

Today, Elephant Camps and Elephant Conservation Centers are opening all over. There are good ones and there are bad ones, just like every other business. Most treat their animals with care and respect because they realize that this is where the income derives. A few unscrupulous one have gotten a lot of attention and left us with the impression that ALL are bad.

That’s is quite obviously NOT the case, as anyone in the Chiang Mai area who has visited the local centers can attest. The elephants are healthy, happy (yes, you actually CAN tell if an elephant is happy) well fed, and seemingly rather content with life. They are earning their own way, they are interacting with humans, and they are having fun. So are the humans! Visit the Elephant Camps in the Chiang Mai area and see for yourself. Take a ride on one. (You don’t mind riding horses do you?) Feed some bananas or sugarcane to an elephant. (You don’t object to giving Rover a dog biscuit, do you?) Play with an elephant. Who knows? Maybe you’ll want to bring one home?

Steve Kramer is a freelance photographer and journalist. He can be reached at Seatraveler.com