Why can’t we go see the elephants?

After hearing this question throughout our trip to Thailand I finally thought long and hard about why we can’t go to see the elephants. For decades I have avoided taking my kids to the circus, animal shows, or some zoos because I was against seeing animals exploited for entertainment purposes. I just could not see past the animal’s eyes when they are subjected to doing tricks simply for our pleasure and amusement. Mostly, seeing the gigantic elephants in their little spaces whipped until they can stand on those little stools with their hind legs really got me to think….Animals weren’t born to amuse us, why should I pay money to go see an elephant stand on a stool or play soccer?

Remember that incident in Hawaii when a circus elephant went on a rampage and ran loose in the streets running over cars and people? Quietly, I was rooting for the elephant. Run little guy… go get lost in the woods where they will never find you!!! Run, run, run!!! We all know how that situation ended. He was shot dead! “Sorry folks, we plucked him from his mother’s womb so that he can make you laugh; now we had to shoot him because he went wild on us.” (Can’t imagine how that could happen.) And to my shocking amazement to hear that peta.com (people for the ethical treatment of animals) even has a campaign to boycott Thailand because of the “Phaajaan” ritual. I’ve seen the ritual and boy, I pray that in the next life I do not come back as an elephant. And what about all of the stories in the newspaper about the bad mahouts? I have to do my part and refuse to contribute to the cruelty of these animals by signing petitions to help them, boycotting the circus, and avoiding the zoos etc…. All of this compelling evidence and strong viewpoint and my kids still wanted to see the darn elephants. The kids are always whining…. “it’s not fair you got to see them, I want to ride the elephants like you did when you were little in that picture; I want to feed them bananas and sugar cane”. WHY CAN’T WE GO TO SEE THE ELEPHANTS!! You see, it was easier when they were little. Now that they have their own thoughts and feelings I can’t make it go away by distracting them or bribing them.

So now I’m faced with this dilemma, should I squash my feelings and take my kids to see the elephants? What can one little family prove by boycotting the zoo or the circus? I explained this to my dad. My dad suggested that all I can do is instill them with the feelings I have for the animals, inform them of the viewpoints and let them make their own decision. “You can’t deprive your kids of seeing these creatures close-up, they won’t be able to make up their minds by just looking at pictures from a book or scenes of a video. Look how strongly you felt about the animals when you saw them close-up. Let them see it with their own eyes. Besides, there’s not many places in the world where you can reach out and touch an elephant.” Isn’t it amazing that dads can say the right things at the right time? DuHHH! Fine, we will go see the elephants! So, we set off to the Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang. As you can see from Jasmine’s first impression of a lively creature taking a bath… I’m thinking that she thought elephants weren’t supposed to be so life-sized!

12 responses to “Why can’t we go see the elephants?

  1. Go to Elehphantnaturepark.com you can interact and spend time with elephants in a non-explotative setting. They rescue elephants and educate people about them.
    By the way, I’m with you on the animal treatment. Especially the hawaii elephant. The only person the elephant harmed was the trainer and, gee to everyones shock and amazement the trainer had treated the elephant cruelly. I’m not sorry the trainer died but I regret the lengths the poor elephant had to go through to escape it’s cruelty.

  2. that’s a very interesting topic indeed.
    I’m quite sure the Elephant Centre in Lampang is a good place for a visit. I haven’t been there, but they are supposed to take care of sick or abandoned or abused elephants there, aren’t they? I remember a small place like that in Koh Chang.
    the whole thing looks controversial to me. I have been to the elephant show near Chiang Mai (Mae Sai), and it seems these tourist attractions at least provide a pretext, context and financial means for the conservation of the species. without the show, they would have to live in the wild, and I’m not sure that would help maintain their number, as their habitat is endangered. but this is just sheer speculation on my part (as usual, haha). I would be interested in an “expert” view 🙂

  3. I had a quick glance at the site lilred, I know I’m a materialistic witch, but somehow 68 US dollars for a daytrip is a huge some of money for Thai standards, even if it goes to a good place and for good causes! 🙁

  4. I went to dreamworld 2 weeks ago with my school and saw 2 elephants standing in the burning sun with hundreds of kids screaming at them.They had a chain of no more than 1 meter long,tied to a wall, no trees and concrete to stand on. I think children can’t and don’t want to see the cruelty in this. Adults say this is a fun and safe place. Who are they to judge. The teachers thought they were cute. Please educate your own kids. They don’t need to see cruelty to know it’s wrong. But if you bump into it with them explain why it’s bad.. Do the Thai teachers {most} believe this is the elephants karma so it serves them right? Upsetting and confusing.

  5. I’d rather see the elephants at the conversation park or “elephant camps” in Thailand than the ones trudging along the streets of Bangkok getting hit by cars, or hanging out by the beach for the tourists.

    We took away their home, and you know you’re only kidding yourself if you say that we can give them back the jungle. Keeping the elephants close to the forest and providing them with a good environment is the best we can do.

  6. I’m in total agreement regarding the animal cruelty factor. One place where i’ve actually seen the elephants just walking around freely is Sriracha tiger zoo. Fed them bananas and so on.. on the other hand the park dressed up the monkeys and had the bears walking on their hindlegs (which they by nature prefer not to). Hated the animal show so much! Also Nong Nooch Tropical garden in/by pattaya had a great deal of animals, and i’m sorry but watching elephants throw darts while wearing big blue dresses just isn’t natural or kind at all.

  7. http://www.elephant.tnet.co.th/index_21.1.html

    I have posted this before, I know, this is an elephant hospital that tries to help elephants, it offers no elephant rides, no dressed up or performing elephants or any of that rubbish, and urgently needs your support.
    Visitors are welcome.

  8. This was a nice read, Siamlam; I especially like your way of thinking. I do the same thing: boycott establishments that take away the dignity of animals for show and profit.

    …boycott Thailand because of the “Phaajaan” ritual. I’ve seen the ritual and boy, I pray that in the next life I do not come back as an elephant.

    I haven’t seen this ritual, what is it about? (Please don’t say “oh, that’s known by everyone in the world, except you” – had enough of that crap elsewhere. 🙂 )

    Thanks for the link, Khun Don, nice to see that there are sensible alternatives out there – although sometimes I think that a more aggressive approach is necessary to put an end to the madness of destruction, before it’s too late.

  9. I think the best way to stop an animal from becoming extinct is to make it valuable, and in Thailand the elephant has a tourist value. Now if an elephant is a captive animal, it should have certain minimal conditions, which gives it plenty of freedom to move around and to be treated with kindness.
    When I was in Bangkok last time at the markets, I paid money to hand feed a baby elephant, and what I could see the elephant enjoyed the attention and was very friendly, but I do imagine the elephant most likely did not have much freedom and space to run around after work, so I think that is very bad.

  10. The Elephant Nature Park and The Haven are playing a vital role in the preservation of the Asian elephant; by educating the public about the challenges facing the species, conserving threatened habitat and pioneering new nonviolent training methods.

    Jumbo Express makes visits to hill tribe communities throughout Thailand. Free medical and educational assistance is given to the people and elephants within the remote tribes.

    A day trip to the park involves so much and
    you are involved in the basic elephant care. Volunteering and overnight options are also available.

    Please check out the new website
    http://www.elephantnaturefoundation.org

  11. Dave B. in Concord, CA

    I have been to Thailand as well: before I went I researched elephants there and learned online about the horrors of the phaajaan cruelty. I learned that all working elephants endure the tortures of this ancient ritual as babies when they are torn from their mothers.

    So instead of going on an elephant trek or visiting a “camp” to watch elephant perform silly tricks, I volunteered for a week at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai.
    The Park is (I believe) the only sanctuary in Thailand that does NOT require elephants to perform or go on long walks. It rescues elephants from the abusive logging or begging industries, and pays to “rent” some to give them as much care and love as possible.
    There I met other caring, kind people and had the best week of my life!

    The other camps and so forth will tell you that your money helps pay for them, but they are still put through the phaajaan, then forced to trek for hours in the heat– even when tired, old or even pregnant– and kept in chains at night instead of being allowed to socialize, which elephants need to do.

    So please, if you’re going to Thailand and love elephants, please skip making an overworked elephant haul your butt around, and don’t pay to see elephants perform silly, unnatural tricks for you. Instead have a close-up encounter feeding and bathing an elephant, where you can watch them play and socialize, as they deserve.
    Thanks!
    Their website is http://www.thaifocus.com/elephant/

    PS And please don’t give any money to street beggars who exploit elephants or other animals to get money– the elephants are owned by rich Thais who get a “cut” of the money…another dirty little secret in Thailand.
    Spread the word!

  12. I’ve just arrived back from 2 weeks in Thailand. I spent the first at the Elephant Nature Park and it was amazing. The ENP look after the elephants so well, bathing twice a day, feeding 4 times a day, there is so much love you can really get up close and personal. As a volunteer you work hard, but it is worth it. It isn’t the cheapest thing to do, but all food and accomodation is included and it is the best way to get to know 31 looked after and well loved elephants.

    For my second week I went down to Surin with the ENF. They have a second project there. The Goverment in Surin have arranged 2000 acres of land to get the elephants off the streets of Bangkok. Bit of a pay cut for them (The Mahout’s can earn 30,000 baht street begging, the goverment only pay 8,000) but for the sake of not going out every night and having somewhere to live, a community, and basic food and medical care 150 mahouts have already joined the Goverments project.

    The ENF have then come in and said they’d like to help. They agree to provide the housing for the Mahout and family in return for the Mahout to be a little more caring and not put any babies through Phaajaan. Only 6 have agreed to join so far, but it has only been running a couple of months so looking good for the future.

    In my week there we built shelters for 5 elephants. The sense of acheivement was amazing, one new baby was born on our second night, a mother and 2 month old joined the project on our penultimate day…

    Although we had to see the other side, the scarred elephants, the daily shows, the elephants being forced to stand in the blazing sun with no water available, watching the new babies and bath time, even watching one of the elephants getting jealous of us spending time with her Mahout was so worth it. I found this an incredible experience. The sense that I had made such a difference was overwelming.

    So, anyone who wants to see and “cuddle” an elephant, Elephant Nature Park is the place to go, you can do a day, week, overnight, etc

    But for those who really want to make a difference, Surin is where to go. See it from all sides, and understand it a little better.

    Worth Every Penny.