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[Ecosystem] [March Theme Report] Thailand's tourism impacts on elephants

by Chananan Piriyalertsak | 19-03-2023 22:59 recommendations 1


   Thailand is home to many diverse ranges of exotic animals such as the elephants, pangolins, gibbons and tigers. Yet one of the urgent problems we are facing is the abuse of elephants in Thailand.

   The national animal of Thailand, elephants are revered and have been a crucial part of Thai society for centuries such as being vessels for transport in times of war or going to war as horses for people to ride on its back. In times of war elephants were imprisoned and tasked with heavy and dutiful manual labor, being harmful to their health. After the war they were not needed for manual labor anymore as technology has progressed, so the tourism and entertainment industries have laborious job opportunities. This leads us to where we are today. Elephants to many Thai’s hold a special place in their hearts as they are synonymous with peace, unity and tranquility yet they are still being endangered because of the effects of tourism. A study done in 2015 worked out that 86% of the captive elephants in Thailand are living in unacceptable and inadequate conditions.

   In lieu of the recent spike in tourism, captive elephants work harder than before and are often forced to paint with their trunks on canvas, perform tricks for shows such as kicking footballs into the goal or blocking them with their trunks, letting tourist sit on their backs and swim. There are still huge consequences for these majestic creatures, for example putting weight on an elephant’s back is harmful, because their skin sits right on top of bone leaving them with deformed spines. Moreover, sometimes to familiarize the elephants with humans, trainers often separate the baby from its mother, putting it in a cage and tying the elephant up so it is compliant enough to interact with humans. Currently, Thailand is still slow to legislate laws for the elephants. Under Thai law, elephants are still classed as "working animals'', the legislation forces owners of captive elephants to send in DNA samples to the national elephant database and also ensures that new elephant births are registered, allowing the authorities to a certain point monitor the welfare of Thailand's estimated 3800 working elephants. Yet there is still a long way to go, with a Chiang Mai University study published in 2021 finding that more than half of the elephants in Chiang Mai tourist facilities have nervous tics that may reflect anxiety, frustration, and or boredom.

   Currently, there is no better solution to incentivize change other than informing tourist friends and relatives to avoid these elephant shows and visit more ethical tourist attractions. Though there is a positive outlook as more and more tourists have become aware of the animal abuse happening and avoiding such places. Thailand still needs a more permanent and sustainable solution to protect these gentle animals.

Tourists are enjoying riding elephants in the forest.


  • Thailand E-gen Ambassador Chananan Piriyalertsak


Chananan Piriyalertsak

James Mentor

  • James Mentor says :
    Hello Chananan! This is your mentor James.

    I'm glad that you have selected this topic for your theme report! I myself also went to Thailand a couple of times either as a family trip or school field trip. There, I also witnessed those majestic, but poorly treated animals in zoos being used as an exotic means of transportation. I agree that the most effective way to curb these kinds of animal abuse is to inform friends and relatives regarding this ethical issue whenever they are planning to go on a trip.

    Thank you again for discussing this problem. I hope other ambassadors take a look at this report too.
    Posted 29-03-2023 10:31

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The Bow Seat Fellowship Grant Program
Date: 15/03/2023 to TBD
Type: Online

Date: 01/03/2023 to 30/04/2023
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