Each year, millions of tourists flock to Thailand in the hopes of interacting with Asian elephants. With popular elephant encounter options ranging from taking selfies with calves to riding on pachyderms through the jungle, travelers are lead to believe that these tourist excursions are normal and – worst of all – acceptable. Simply put, the facade covering up the cruelties of Thailand’s elephant tourism is one that must be destroyed in order to protect the plight of the endangered Asian elephant species. And now we have even more information to expose this cruel industry.

new report by World Animal Protection on the conditions of elephants used in tourism in Asia was just recently released and details the extent of the cruelty behind the elephant tourism industry. The report documents the conditions of nearly 3,000 elephants used in tourism venues across Asia. 220 venues were surveyed between late 2014 and mid-2016, including venues in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.


Following World Animal Protection’s first survey in 2010 covering the conditions of elephants in entertainment in Thailand, this latest research shows that three out of four of the 2,923 elephants are living in poor conditions. 

According to the report, in the most recent study, 357 more elephants in Thailand were found living in poor welfare conditions than five years ago. Thailand is home to about three-quarters of all elephants kept in captivity for entertainment in Asia.

According to World Animal Protection, “Between 2010 and 2016 in Thailand alone, 17 fatalities and 21 serious injuries to people by captive elephants were reported in the media. And unreported incidences involving local elephant keepers are likely to make this figure much higher.” Captive elephants are vulnerable to stress and rapidly changing emotions which can lead to sudden outbursts of aggression. When elephants are being used for tourist excursions, these outbursts can lead to injuries and fatalities. 

When not giving rides or performing, the elephants were typically chained day and night, most of the time, chains were less than three meters long. They were also fed poor diets, given limited veterinary care and frequently kept on concrete floors in stressful locations near loud music, roads or visitor groups. 


Wild caught and captive-bred elephants undergo cruel training, including being stabbed with hooks to establish dominance. Sadly, over just five years there has been a 30 percent rise in the number of elephants at tourism venues in Thailand.

Despite what these venues may tell unsuspecting tourists, the report notes that the elephant tourism industry appears to contribute to the decline of wild populations instead of protecting them. 


Elephants are highly intelligent and live in family groups. Female elephants never live alone in the wild and younger members of the family learn how to “be an elephant” from the older females in the herd. Their lives mirror that of humans, with youngsters depending on their mother well into teenage years.

Elephants in captivity are forced to live in isolation from other elephants, due to chaining and work schedule. Babies are born often as a result of forced breeding, whereupon they are taken from their mothers at around one year old, years before the recommended age. They are typically denied years of mother’s milk which can cause health issues later in life.


For all of you pachyderm lovers who would still like the opportunity to view elephants WITHOUT the abuse, have no fear! There are alternatives to Thailand’s elephant tours. Several sanctuaries exist worldwide that specialize in elephant care (ie. Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary and the Surin Project). Just remember to do your research on prospective facilities and sanctuaries, and be sure to follow the “Five Freedoms” to ensure a healthy, pain-free elephant experience.

To read World Animal Protection’s full “Elephants on a Tight Rope” report, click here. Please take a moment to make your voice heard and sign the pledge to never participate in elephant treks. Most people are unaware of the cruelty behind this industry, so please share this with friends to help get the word out. This cruel practice will only end once people stop paying for it!

Image source: World Animal Protection