Voice of Experience: Attitudes About Elephants
What are your thoughts about tourism development in Thailand?
Chiang Mai is a land of cultural heritage surrounded by natural beauty. I grew up here so I have seen many, many tour companies and many, many tourists. In my opinion, most companies offer itineraries that look very similar. I wanted to start a tour company that offers alternative activities. Also, some tour companies show concern for nature and animals but many companies do not or don’t have to because Chiang Mai has such a high volume of tourists.
How did you get into the travel and tour industry?
I am from Chiang Mai and own SukSang Tour and Travel Trends. I started in the tourism industry as a graphic designer but then opened a small homestay in a town called Suk Niyom. Now I created SukSang, a travel agency that has put together a menu of the best tours in Chiang Mai.
How many elephants do you care for?
We work with the Karen people who I have known my whole life and have been to their village many times. It is awesome to spend time in the Karen village because I can feel how they treat their animals, especially the elephants. There are no elephant chains. The elephants walk around the village freely with their mahout who has been with the same elephant since it was born. There are six elephants in this village and they have never had any tour company use the elephant for tourism or hard labor. The elephants and the Karen ethnic minority are born together and live in harmony with their beliefs, nature and the big mountain.
What do you feel tourists learn most from meeting your elephants and how can tourism make a positive contribution to elephant welfare?
For the Karen people, elephant care is all about learning and sharing love with the animal. Tourists who visit the village can witness how the Karen care for their elephants and survive together in the remote mountain area. Before tour agents and tourists decide to host or join any activity that includes elephants, they should make sure the elephants are healthy, loved and cared for properly.
What changes would you like to see made for the safety and protection of elephants in Thailand?
For the safety and protection of elephants in Thailand, we would like to see that these animals have freedom and are kept safe. The owners need to understand about elephants and what activities the elephants can do or ways the tourism experience can be modified to protect the health and safety of the elephants.
Elephant welfare is a much-debated topic and some countries do not even promote elephant tourism of any kind. How would you respond to someone who says that elephants should not be involved in tourism at all?
Domesticated Elephants depend on the revenue from tourism in order to provide the large quantities of food and water these huge animals consume everyday. Revenue from tourism help take care of these elephants. They have hard time living in a wild unless they receive an extensive well-designed rehabilitation process.
In my opinion, all elephant interaction activities can be modified to protect their welfare. For example, owners should make sure their elephants are not overworked for long hours or giving rides with the heavy chair for two persons (which hurts the elephants’ backs), or even not giving rides at all.
What are the most important lessons tourists can take away from their visit?
The most important lesson that tourists can take away from an elephant experience is to understand the good relation between the mahout and their elephant and how these giant animals need the forest in which to live.
Do you fear for the future of elephants? If so, why?
I do fear for the future of Thai elephants because some people looking for a business investment can go to the small village that has elephants and start a business. I am not sure in these cases if this type of enterprise is because the businessman cares for elephants or just wants to make some money.