Elephants encounters at Chiang Mai – in Thailand

My friend Bernie is just back from a few months living in Chiang Mai in Thailand and brought back these elephant pictures from the Mae Tang Elephant Park that he visited while he was there. The elephant below is painting a T-shirt which will then be sold to raise money for the park.

You’ll find many different elephant parks in northern Thailand and around Chiang Mai. The elephants once worked in the forest to move logs, but since the logging trade was banned in 1988 you can see them by visiting one of these centres where they work with their mahouts to put on a performance for you.

There are around 80 elephants at this particular camp, 50 of which are owned by the camp and the rest are brought in by the mahoots who own them, whenever they cannot find work and so cannot afford to feed the elephants. At night the elephants are taken up into the forest, which is their natural habitat to rest and sleep. The camp supports 300 local people in direct employment and an estimated 1000 indirectly rely on the income from visitors.

The MaeTang Elephant Park is 45 minutes out of Chiang Mai towards Chiang Dao and the owners are in the process of setting up an elephant clinic to provide veterinary care for the elephants. At Mae Taeng they take a “soft” approach to elephant training and the mahouts who are sent to nearby Lampang to be trained to look after the elephants, some of which are fourth generation born in captivity.

There are different views as to whether it is the right way to treat the elephants to keep them in captivity and perform for tourists, but elephants have always worked in this area and by establishing the elephant clinic at Mae Taeng, they will enhance the veterinary care of the elephants. Elephants can have health problems, such as constipation, caused by eating too many banana branches and insect infestation under their skin which has to be checked for daily.

By having the clinic on the premises, they will avoid sometimes having to drive a sick animal to Lampang to see the vet, not ideal with such a huge animal and also stressful for the elephant.This elephant clinic will invite visiting vets from all over the world, who want to get experience treating elephants, to come to stay and will be equipped with a convalescing and nursery area as well as the natural and conventional medicines to treat the elephants. The clinic will also provide free veterinary care to all elephants in the MaeTang area, not just those at the park.

Elephant camps are an important part of the tourism industry in Thailand and provide local employment for those who would have formerly been employed in logging, so enjoy your encounter with these gentle giants but make sure you choose an elephant centre that has high standards of animal welfare.

Compare prices and book hotels near Chiang Ma in Thailand with Hotels Combined

This post is part of the Friday photo hosted by Delicious baby – see all the other Friday photos here.

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See more photos from the elephant camp on Flickr

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  • Reply
    March 22, 2009 at 12:17 am

    My husband and I did a little 1/2 day Mahout training course at the Four Seasons Tented Camp when we were in Thailand and it was great fun – they only keep elephants they’re rescuing, so they’d be mistreated otherwise, and it costs them a fortune on vet bills, food and the rest.Great post!

    Got your message. Now I didn’t realise I didn’t have you on my blog roll – I was sure I did – so I’ll pop you on that when I put them all up.

  • Reply
    jen laceda
    March 22, 2009 at 3:33 am

    I’ve been to a couple of Elephant Parks in Thailand, and I’ve always worried about the elephant training system. Mae Tang looks like a place where elephants are being treated well and fed well, even if they are sort of a circus attraction to tourists. At least they are not being “laboured” to death. A veterinary clinic to rescue elephants is such a great initiative!

  • Reply
    March 22, 2009 at 4:07 am

    incredible photos – thanks to your friend for sharing them! i am glad that they are finding ways for the elephants to be useful – and taken care of. thank you!

  • Reply
    March 23, 2009 at 12:14 am

    The Detroit Zoo infamously gave up its elephants to a sanctuary (after a prolonged fight with the governing zoo association over their right to do so) out of concern with health problems in their older elephants due to living in more confined quarters.

    So, it was interesting to me to read your take on the elephant farms. I can see where, while it may not be an ideal situation, it may be the best situation for the animals -and- local people with a well-run farm in some locations.

  • Reply
    Punta Cana Mom
    April 2, 2009 at 3:20 am

    I think I’ll leave the deep thoughts to everyone else who is clearly more informed on this topic – suffice to say that I really enjoyed the photos. Realizing now that I haven’t seen many elephant photos outside of magazines – and those definitely did not include a photo of an elephant painting!

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    suzy Markovski
    November 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    from someone who has been educated and volunteered in an anilmal sancuary in the Petchuburi province where i worked with retired elephants, BOTTOM LINE any animal used for tourist attractions.. doing tricks etc is having a miserable life. and being treated badly.. i have witnessed ‘training’ elephant perform for fear of punishment not because they enjoy it!. as long as tourists give them a market animals will be exploited. i prey for the day humans stop their selfish ways

    • Reply
      November 4, 2011 at 9:43 pm

      @ suzy Thanks for your comment, I appreciate hearing from all different perspectives on this issue – It’s a difficult balance when animals are used as a tourist attraction – would there be a place for these animals at all if people didn’t want to come and see them? Or would you advocate they were just left to live in the wild?

  • Reply
    suzy Markovski
    January 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    @ Heather, yes, if people cared genuinley about their quality of life.. we could create sanctuaries. i volunteered at ‘Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand’ a rescue centre and park for wild animals that have been rescued from exploitative situations. People could still go.. pay a small fee to see these majestics creatures living freely in sanctuaries.. the money would go towards the up keep and it would also creat jobs for the locals.. the are other solutions.. but humans are ignorant and often selfish..they want an up close experience at the expense of these poor animals.. they want to see animals being exploited and doing un-natuaral things.. we create a market for it. Please remind your family and friends that more than 50% of the elephants at tourist camps came from the wild, and that they go through “training” (which is very cruel) Does anyone need more reasons to boycot these elephant camps??? Lie i said.. there is a long way to get there but there are other solutions!!

  • Reply
    suzy Markovski
    January 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm


  • Reply
    suzy Markovski
    January 29, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    and yes i advocate they be left in the wild? is this even a question. between being left in the wild and a baby elephant or primate being taken from its mum so it can be trained to beg on the streets.. paint.. play basket ball.. take people for rides.. perform circus tricks.. do u realise what cruelty it takes to get an animal to comply and behave un-naturally.. shame shame i say

  • Reply
    July 12, 2012 at 11:45 am

    This is groovy mc noovy

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    davidblow ean true
    September 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    wild elephants thailand

    asian wildlife

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    from davidblow

    thank you

  • Reply
    September 5, 2012 at 5:36 am

    @David thanks for your comment

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