Some overseas animal rights groups have argued that tourists should not visit elephant camps, claiming that they ‘promote cruelty’. We say this is a wholly unjustified sweeping statement. Centres like the Phang Nga Elephant Park were specifically established with a total commitment to welfare and education. We exist not only to care for our elephants, many of which were former loggers, but to provide them with a cosy and happy environment, with safe and secure employment for the mahouts, and a unique and wonderful human-animal interaction for our visitors.
Of course in rural and traditional cultures there were abuses, particularly with some training methods. But times are changing, actively supported by the Thai government. Blanket criticisms or emotional attempts to close down responsible, welfare-based operations that are educating owners, mahouts and visitors, bring contentment to the elephants and much joy to the human visitors, are unfair and unjustified.
Like horses, buffaloes, oxen and and camels, elephants have been domesticated for thousands of years. Campaigners rarely object to the use of draught horses or camels, horse riding or racing, unless there are clear animal welfare concerns, when education and encouragement generally offer the best solutions. The same standards should apply to elephants.
Without work in tourism, Thai elephant owners will have no means to care for their animals. THAT really will create a welfare crisis. Please let us look critically at the argument and let common sense prevail.
At Phang Nga Elephant Park we are working towards a world where the elephant is used but never abused.