Changing The Course Of Tourism Starting With Elephants

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The next time you are in Thailand and see a crowd of people lined up, ready and waiting to ride an elephant, I think you should remember this article.

My stomach churned and my heart melted as I read Russ Juskalian´s article in The Boston Globe about his experience in an elephant sanctuary in Northern Thailand. The Elephant Nature Park is a 50-acre refuge scattered with huts on stilts and healing elephants. Apparently, it is a much needed refuge, especially with the rising demand by tourists of photo-opportunities atop these seemingly gentle giants:

As we fed the elephants, the staff told us about them: Lilly, whose two previous owners kept her addicted to amphetamines so she could work double shifts; Malai Tong, whose foot was partially blown off by a land mine and with a handler was forced to beg on the streets with a life-threatening infection; and Jokia, who was blinded in both eyes by repeated slingshot assaults intended to make her work past exhaustion.

The guests at the sanctuary were also told of ¨pajaan,¨ a ritualistic beating of bound and confined young elephants in order to ¨break their spirit.¨

It is hard to say whether elephant rides are good or bad, whether the industry is inherently evil, or if it just is what it is. It has become the battle of morals based on animal supply and human demand: either the elephants are left free or the locals starve.

Nevertheless, what is comforting is knowing that there are people out there — like ¨Lek,¨ the founder of the Elephant Nature Park — who devote their lives to improving the lives of others, whether it´s for Man or beast. The more we know about the abuses of these tourist programs, the more we can re-create new ways to enjoy the culture, the flora, and especially the fauna of a foreign country.

Perhaps, like Russ Juskalian, instead of indirectly supporting the exploitation of animals, we could volunteer at a park or help reintroduce various displaced species back into the wild. If enough tourists are interested in these kinds of programs, maybe the industry will change its course from destruction to growth. Something nice to think about.

By Brit Weaver


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisure cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog,

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