How ethical is the elephant tourism in Thailand? Perspective of fuelling cruelty or promoting fun.

Dear reader,  

Hello and welcome to my blog! In this blog I would like to tell a little story about the use of elephants in the Thai’s tourism sector. Moreover, many historical dates as well as cults will be told below.

Why is this an important topic?

The misuse of animals has been a global issue for many years and therefore it is crucial to address the need of a solution to fight the cruelty used upon them. In this blog the focus will be on the Thai’s use of elephants for the public’s pleasure and how that might affect the world in the longterm.


For countless years, Thailand has been one of the most attractive Asian countries for tourism. It has counted over 39 million international visitors in 2019 being rated in the top 20 for most desired country for visitors. With this country being situated in the centre of Southeast Asia, it is considerably known for its richness in history dating all the way back to the Palaeolithic era. Thailand is a natural monarchy and therefore very popular on its people, culture, habits, and its fascinating natural environment. Moreover, Thai food follows up very crucial cultures as its cuisine varies by location and therefore many see it as delicious and inexpensive delicacies representing its finest culture (Johannessen,2020).


Amongst several attractions offered by the Thai locals, one has been considered as the centre of attention for tourists. The elephant ride in Kok Chang Safari, Phuket (UME,2021). For over the past decades the general number of captive animals has increased to 70% however, according to the latest reports end of 2020, the WAP stated that that the welfare is taken into consideration and the percentage of increase in tourism in Thailand due to such attractions increased by 35% (Mongabay,2021).

For many centuries the Thai culture celebrates the elephant as a designated symbol of fortune. These are then references to artwork, literature, and national emblems. Since Thailand is a Buddhist country, elephants are then portrayed as sacred animals from their memorable symbolism in the practice of Buddhism. Moreover, in 1917 Thailand’s official flag was a white elephant in the centre of a scarlet background. These represent wealth and power in Thai society due to past connection with the royal family. Therefore, interacting with the animals is one of the country’s most recognized tourism draws as many people purposely go visit Phuket.

Since 1989, after the country suspended most of its commercial logging many elephants alongside their Health Keepers were found wandering on the streets of Thailand seeking for shelter and since then more than half of its total 7,000 elephants live in captivity with the purpose of entertaining tourists visiting the country (Marshall, 2017). For consecutive times, researchers conducted studies on how these captive animals were treated. It was seen elephants are feared animals. They don’t allow humans to ride them and therefore these are tortured since babies to break this spirit. Moreover, Asian elephants are labelled as an endangered specie as in Thailand itself there was a register of 2000 wild elephants in which after the logging ban, 60% were held captive and other 60% used for public entertainment in the tourism sector (Samui Guide, 2020). Furthermore, it has been stated that the elephant population exceeds the available space and therefore lack of natural habitat to provide living conditions for these animals. Even though all these arguments are factual, others contradict by stating that the mahouts treat these animals like family members as these are crucial for their livelihood. These people provide these animals with food which has a monthly cost of approximately 1000$ and therefore without tourism these animals wouldn’t have a place to go (Samui Guide, 2020).

Use of Elephants

For many years the opposition on if the use of elephants as a travel attraction is considered or not to be animal abuse has been discussed by many organizations worldwide (Frazier, 2019).


Several entities around the global state that the use of elephants as means of tourism attraction is animal cruelty and subsequently wrong. They state that “animals should not be used for personal amusement. A study done by a senior wild lifer described those animals no matter which should undergo any type of abuse but instead should be protected in natural reservations where only eye contact between people and animals are allowed. This, to protect the specie and allow the continued growth of the animal kingdom (Frazier, 2019).

However, others disagree with the statement by counterarguing that there is no space nor possibility to put all those elephants in reservations and therefore being expensive to keep and take care of an animal with such dimensions. Its food can cost the population almost 38$ per day, increasing then the ability to afford it due to the country’s low salary income. Also, many compare this to the average cost of living of a family of four per day in Thailand. According to John Roberts, head of the golden triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and an activist of elephant’s friendly tourism initiatives presented a case where total expenses of keeping an elephant could round up to a total of $56 whereas many families only take up little to $18 a day to eat. Therefore, the Thai society doesn’t see a solution to fund the unkept elephants and therefore also sustain its keepers (Frazier,2019).

Common Solution

A trial conducted by a group of specialists, experts, and government representatives with the mean of protecting animals who currently live in Thailand was executed. They introduced a bill for elephants where the continuous try to stop animal cruelty as well as elephants kept in captivity. Examples of this are elephant rides, commercial breeding and shows. Even though, as mentioned, elephants are the country’s national animal it doesn’t mean that these are allowed to misuse this specie for own benefit (WAP,2021) Therefore, the elephant bill consists of different purposes. The removal of loopholes in the ban of commercial breeding as well as public entertainment. Impose the need of elephant friendly venues and stop any laws on elephants in captivity. These have been discussed as Thailand is the only country in the world where elephants can be seen as wild animals but also domestic (WAP,2021). According to the Country Director from Thailand, the country is making significant efforts in restricting its wildlife trade and once the bill is concluded it will be presented to the Thai’s government in hope of greater change (WAP,2021).

Eventhough many elephants in Thailand live under labour work or as means of public pleasure there also are sanctuaries. This is defined as a place where “retired” elephants are protected and lived in peace. The mission of the owners of these sanctuaries is to provide these elephants with individualized care and with companionship of a keeper. Moreover, these venues don’t sell, trade, exploit or profit from these animals (Elephant Nature Park,2021).

In conclusion, many parties are trying to come with a common effort solution to please both the mahouts and the wildlife protection centres with the aid of preserving the specie by promoting several ways of admiring these beautiful creatures in their most natural habitat. This booming industry needs to be controlled and measured so that both the health keepers and the elephants can remain in a peaceful place where health care can be provided, and these animals can then be treated like family. Lastly, the government is willing to reed and proceed with the possible implementation of the new bill in the tourism economy where then many new restrictions and laws will have to be applied on the misuse of elephants in the tourist sector of Thailand (Samuels, 2021).



A new bill to protect elephants in Thailand. (2021). World Animal Protection. Retrieved from


Elephants in Thailand. (2021). Wikipedia. Retrieved from


Elephants in Thailand: 4 Things You Must Know. (2020). The Koh Samui Guide. Retrieved from


In Thailand, You Can Ride an Elephant. But Should You? (2021). The New York Times. Retrieved from


Marshall, C. (2017). Elephant tourism is “fuelling cruelty.” BBC News. Retrieved from

Mixed fates for captive elephants sent back to villages amid Thai tourism collapse. (2021). Mongabay New & Inspiration from Nature’s Frontline. Retrieved from


Top 10 Elephant Safari in Thailand. (2020). UME Travel. Retrieved from


Welcome to Elephant Nature Park. (n.d.). Elephant Nature Park. Retrieved from



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