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Responsible Tourism: 4 Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai

Be mindful of the elephants' welfare!

· 4 min read

Want to visit the renowned elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, but don't want to contribute to animal cruelty? You are not alone! As awareness about ethical tourism grows, more visitors are seeking meaningful experiences with these majestic creatures while prioritizing their well-being. Let's take a look at how you can identify if an elephant sanctuary is ethical, and what are some of the ethical elephant sanctuaries that you can visit in Chiang Mai.

Source: Elephant Nature Park

The Dark Side of Elephant Tourism

Traditional elephant tourism often involved activities such as riding and performing tricks, which raised serious ethical concerns about the treatment and well-being of the elephants involved. Recognizing the negative impact of such practices, ethical sanctuaries have emerged in Chiang Mai, committed to providing a more humane and respectful environment for these gentle giants.

How to Identify Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries

There are a lot of differing opinions as to what constitutes an ethical elephant sanctuary. However, generally, there are two key points to help you identify if an elephant sanctuary is ethical:

  • Ethical elephant sanctuaries will allow elephants to roam freely within the ground
  • Ethical elephant sanctuaries will not have elephant rides nor performances

If an elephant sanctuary goes against any of the above two points, you know immediately that they are not ethical.

There are a few other factors that are a little more controversial, and there are many differing opinions as to whether they constitute being unethical:

  • Whether you are allowed to bathe or touch the elephants
  • Whether you can feed the elephants

Fundamentally, the guideline is that the more human interactions there are with the elephants, the more unethical it is.

Wondering what you will be doing at the elephant sanctuaries if you cannot interact with them? Well, you'll primarily be observing them!

Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries

If you are looking to go on a tour to the elephant sanctuaries, it is recommended that you do your research to ensure that the sanctuary you are heading to is ethical. Here are a few sanctuaries that are known to be ethical which you can consider.

1. Elephant Nature Park

Source: Elephant Nature Park

Among the pioneers in ethical elephant tourism, Elephant Nature Park stands out as a shining example. Located in the lush hills of Chiang Mai, this sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates elephants that have been mistreated or overworked in the past.

There is strictly no elephant riding or performances at the Elephant Nature Park, and bathing with elephants is not allowed. You can observe the elephants in their natural habitat, learn about them, and in some tours, feed or walk with the elephants.

Elephant Nature Park offers a variety of tours, ranging from half-day tours to overnight tours and even private tours. As the Elephant Nature Park is one of the most popular elephant sanctuaries, it is recommended to make your reservations in advance.

Take note that the only way to make a reservation with Elephant Nature Park is to do it directly with them. So, you might want to avoid booking for tours to Elephant Nature Park through third-party sites or operators.

2. Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary

Source: Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary

Kindred Spirit is one of the most highly rated ethical elephant sanctuaries, with a strong focus on elephant welfare. They aim to allow the elephants to live naturally, keeping human influence to the minimum.

Unlike most other sanctuaries, an overnight stay is required if you want to visit Kindred Spirit. If you want to see the elephants, you will have to wake up early in the morning and hike from the accommodation into the forest.

At Kindred Spirit, you are not allowed to feed, bathe, or even walk with the elephants — staying true to their principle of keeping human influence to the minimum. Instead, you will just watch them from a distance.

You will also get to learn more about the tribal culture of the village, and will have a chance to interact with some of the villagers. Kindred Spirit is a great option if you are looking for a more immersive experience.

You can book a visit with them directly from their website.

3. Burm and Emily's Elephant Sanctuary (BEES)

Source: BEES

BEES adopts a No Contact policy, meaning you are not allowed to touch the elephants. Of course, that also means that you should not expect to feed or bathe with the elephants. However, you will get a chance to help prepare treats for the elephants and help to care for other rescued animals at the sanctuary.

You will also have the opportunity to give back to the community and assist in small projects around the sanctuary or village.

BEES runs programs for overnight stays. Half-day visits are not allowed; and if you only want to visit for the day and not stay over, you can only do so on Tuesdays or Fridays. However, for single-day visits, transportation is not provided and you will have to arrange for your own transportation.

Advanced booking is required, so make sure to book in advance before heading to the sanctuary!

4. Elephant Dream Project

Source: Elephant Dream Project

If you do not want an overnight stay, and if you are looking for a little more interaction with the elephants, you can consider Elephant Dream Project.

Elephant Dream Project offers three types of tours - the half-day tour, full-day tour, or full-day visit with trekking. On these tours, you will get to feed the elephants. On the full-day tours, you will have the opportunity to learn to make herbal medicine for the elephants and walk with them.

Bathing with the elephants is allowed, but only when the elephants feel like it. That means that when these gentle giants decide they want to take a bath, you are allowed to join them in the river! But if they don't feel like it, there's no forcing them to take a bath.

You can make a reservation with them on their website, or book a tour with them via the OTAs.