Thai elephant camp pioneering elephant-friendly tourism in Thailand

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May 2018: Happy Elephant Care Valley, in Chiang Mai, Thailand is about to embark on a landmark agreement to transition to become a truly elephant-friendly venue. This move will end all contact between tourists and elephants at the camp, to meet the growing demand for responsible elephant experiences.

The transformation of the venue is pioneered by World Animal Protection as part of a coalition of leaders in the travel industry, including TUI Group, The Travel Corporation, Intrepid Group, G Adventures, EXO Travel, Thomas Cook Group, and others.

Elephants in many venues across Thailand still offer rides that are the result of elephants suffering a cruel and intensive training process.  A 2017 KANTAR global study showed the number of people who find elephant riding acceptable has dropped by 9% (from 53% to 44%) in just three years. The research also showed that eight out of ten (80%) of tourists would prefer to see elephants in their natural environment, proving elephant-friendly tourism is on the rise.

In India there are around 3000 elephants in captivity and are being used for entertainment purposes such as rides at Amer Fort in Jaipur. Elephants are wild animals and not for our entertainment.

“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. We hope it paves the way for creation of similar facilities in India and brings about a change in the attitude of tour operators and tourist demand for elephant rides. This is replicable and doable in our country and we urge the Indian government to engage other stakeholders to come up with a sustainable solution like this and help protect elephants from abuse,” said Gajender K Sharma, India Country Director at World Animal Protection.

The elephants at Happy Elephant Care Valley were previously from farms and riding camps, and until recently it was possible for close interaction between tourists and the elephants, being able to ride, bathe and feed elephants at the venue. This stopped when the travel industry coalition presented a business case demonstrating the rise of elephant-friendly tourism. The transition will see the elephants free to behave as they would in the wild; free to roam the valley, bathing in mud, dust, water or grazing as tourists experience the wonder, standing at a safe distance.

Steve McIvor, CEO at World Animal Protection:

“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.”