Getting the chance to see wild animals in their natural environment can be a magnificent and humbling experience. Unfortunately, there are very few opportunities for us to witness animals outside of zoos or circuses here in the United States. For this reason, many people travel abroad to get the chance to see their favorite animals up close and personal.
Thailand is an especially popular destination for animal lovers who want the chance to see elephants or tigers. There is a plethora of animal attractions that offer everything from “selfies” with tigers to elephant massages. It might seem like an exciting opportunity to interact with exotic animals. The downside to visiting these places, however, is the lack of value that they place on animal welfare.
Many attractions plug conservation initiatives in an effort to justify keeping wild elephants and tigers captive, but the reality is quite the opposite.
For example, the Tiger Temple in Thailand is a booming enterprise that offers tourists the chance to pet, feed and take photos with tigers. To the big cat lover, this opportunity might seem just too good to be true … and sadly it is. Although the Temple’s monks insist that they care for the tigers and claim they are docile because they have been hand-reared, the truth is that all of the tigers have been brutally beaten and abused to learn to fear their captors. There are also rumors that the tigers are in fact drugged, which makes them appear “sleepy” and “content.” The Tiger Temple in Thailand was recently raided as allegations surfaced that the Buddhist monks were illegally breeding their tigers and trafficking them across international borders. Not exactly our idea of “conservation.”
Elephant tourism also runs rampant in Thailand. Like in the case of Tiger Temple, elephant trekking camps attempt to convince tourists that they care about the animals, but in reality they abuse and torture these animals to get them to follow instructions.
Sadly, while there are likely more abusive animal attractions out there than there are humane ones, that doesn’t mean that the latter does not exist. In fact, there are many kind alternatives to the cruel animal attractions you can find in Thailand, you just have to know where to look!
Here are a few to keep in mind if a trip to Thailand is in your future!
1. Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai
Elephant Nature Park is a true elephant sanctuary that takes in formerly abused or orphaned elephants. At the sanctuary, the elephants are free to live life on their own terms and get to interact with one another in their own make-shift herd.
Founded by Lek Chailert, Elephant Nature Park is part of the Save Elephant Foundation. These two amazing organizations work in tandem to educate the public about the abuse experienced by elephants in the tourism industry. Elephant Nature Park offers tours of the sanctuary, giving visitors the chance to see elephants in a manner that contributes to their protection rather than their abuse.
2. The Wildlife Friends Foundation, Petchaburi
Like Elephant Nature Park, The Wildlife Friends Foundation was created to help educate the public, especially children, about the cruelty that animals experience in the entertainment world. There are a number of wild animal sanctuaries managed by The Wildlife Friends Foundation, including an elephant refuge, a bear rescue center as well as Gibbon rehabilitation center. This awesome safe haven for animals offers day trips or extended volunteer stays. If you are truly interested in interacting with elephants or monkeys in a compassionate manner, perhaps volunteering is the ticket for you!
3. Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, Baan Tuek
Boon Lott’s is an elephant sanctuary founded by the incredible Katherine Connor. In Thai, Boon Lott translates to “survivor” and this name perfectly serves all of the elephants who reside at the sanctuary. Many of the elephants at the sanctuary have been rescued from the tourism industry and serve as living reminders that no animal should be utilized for human entertainment.
4. Paddle Asia
For those who love nature and being outside, you may be interested in spending a day (or two) kayaking or canoeing through some of Thailand’s most beautiful natural wonders. Paddle Asia allows tourists the opportunity to view a wide variety of wild animals in their natural habitat including sun bears, Malayan tapirs, and wild elephants. From a distance, of course.
5. Turtle Conservation with Responsible Travel
For a hands-on experience, consider volunteering for a sea turtle conservation group through Responsible Travel. During your stay, you will get the chance to collect data from turtle nests and monitor turtle activity at sea. Once the work day is done, volunteers are encouraged to explore the local town and go snorkeling.
As a general rule of thumb, any sanctuary or safari that allows patrons to ride elephants, features wild animals performing tricks, lets guests feed animals or take pictures with them, almost always involves an excruciating level of abuse behind the scenes.
The best thing you can do as a tourist who cares about animals is to do your research and ensure that you aren’t supporting an organization that exploits their animals for profit. With these five amazing options in mind, you’re sure to kick off your adventure on a positive note and truly get a chance to witness incredibly wild animals, without causing them any harm.
Image source: Tontantravel/Flickr