I was torn about going to an elephant camp in Chiang Mai. As much as I love elephants I did not want to be part of a tourist industry that exploits and abuses elephants for profit. If you have no idea what I’m talking about youtube “phajaan”, the horrendous “training” baby elephants go through in order for the mahout to have complete control over them.
In my research I found Elephant Nature Park (ENP), one of two places in Chiang Mai where there is absolutely no elephant riding and no shows/tricks. The elephants roam the park with their chosen family or herd, and the keepers or mahouts use non-violent positive reinforcement (a.k.a. bribing with food) to keep the elephants and the visitors safe.
It was a heartwarming experience that gave me an even deeper appreciation for these majestic animals. I spent the entire day walking around the park with our guide, Tong, who told us the story behind every single elephant, described the elephant’s personality and shared funny anecdotes about their relationships with other elephants. The elephants at ENP were either rescued from illegal logging, other elephant camps/trekking companies, or street begging. Some were still under special care because they were recovering, emotionally and physically, from the abuses they suffered before being rescued by ENP. Despite their pasts, the elephants we saw were playful and tender with each other. We even got to pet a few!
Below are some of the pictures I took while at ENP. I would absolutely recommend Elephant Nature Park if you’re looking for an ethical elephant camp. If you are doing a trek in Thailand, make sure there is no elephant riding involved (unfortunately, many still do).