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The various bungalows in Khao Sok national park advertise elephant treks and there are various tours advertised out of Phuket and Krabi.

These sound interesting. But how can I tell prior to booking if the elephants are treated humanely?

What it means to treat an elephant humanely is probably a culturally influenced, so I guess I'm talking from a first-world mentality. I don't have an exact definition. I would dislike it if during the ride they were repeatedly struck in the head with a barbed metal pole. When not treking I wouldn't like to see them continuously chained up with no ability to move. Maybe this counts out all elephant treks worldwide?

If these elephants are not treated well I would tend towards to the elephant experience which does not seem to involve a jungle trek but appears more conservation based.

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What do you consider humane treatment of elephants? –  Ankur Banerjee Dec 19 '11 at 9:56
    
@AnkurBanerjee: See my edit to the question –  WW. Dec 20 '11 at 0:17
    
Hmm, hitting animals definitely counts as cruelty, not sure about chaining though as I don't so what's so different from keeping a dog on a leash. But that's just me. :) Anyway, thanks for the edit, this will help those trying to answer your question. As an aside, elephants are considered sacred in Thai culture but there are unscrupulous tour operators too who may skimp on animal care for greater profits. Equally you find tour operators who care and treat animals humanely too. –  Ankur Banerjee Dec 20 '11 at 0:37
    
The driver(?) of my elephant in Africa carried a short metal pole which he gently prodded the elephant with(no hitting and there certainly wasn't any barbs, it was more an extension of the drivers arm than anything else) behind the ear as a means of pointing it in the right direction, along with his heals, voice commands and an ample supply of treats. –  Stuart Dec 20 '11 at 14:05
    
@Stuart: That sounds good. I'm assuming you have to do something to get an elephant to do what you want :) –  WW. Dec 20 '11 at 22:18
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Short answer, you can't.

However, you can at least make sure they have an official license, and any other accreditation which might lend some credence to their claims.

Look for ones that are licensed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), and consider googling for the tour company plus some key words, to see if anyone has mentioned them or complained about them.

All you can do is research, and ask around when you get there as well. Or consider approaching the companies and ask them directly - I'm sure you'd not be the first, even if it is rather brazen ;)

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We (a party of two) have just returned from a trek in the Khoa Sok national park in Thailand.

The first portion of the trek included an elephant experience. We expected to maybe have a short ride on an elephant, then feed them... etc etc.

What we instead found was this: Arriving at the elephant "sanctuary" we were plonked on top of a random elephant. The elephant was then shouted at continually to get it to move. We realized very quickly that these elephants were not being treated properly, but before we could say anything we were on a very thin stream/ path on top of an elephant followed by a vicious little Thai man carrying a machete.

The man continued to shout at the elephant, when the elephant slowed down the man smacked and prodded with the machete the elephant to get it to move again. There were numerous instances when the elephant made loud noises directly after being hit or prodded with the machete.

We didn't ourselves feel comfortable looking at the so called guide as every time we did we received a stoney glare as if to say "yes, what?!".

The trek itself didn't to us seem suitable for an elephant to climb up: A rocky thin stream littered with bits of rubbish and plastic pipe.

At one point the man/ guide came to the side of the elephant, shouted some more, then pointed his machete at the eye of the elephant. When the elephant did not respond he stabbed it a little in the side of the head.

After around 20 mins we reached the top of the stream, were told to get off and walk ahead by our selves for 10minutes. We did so only to hear the man shouting at the elephant lots (presumably to turn it around for the walk back down).

On the return leg of the "trek" the man had picked up a 1.5m long bit of rigid white pipe and basically whipped the elephant with it the entire way down.

I noticed at the end of the ride the end of the white pipe had become split and broken from excessive force. The pipe to me looked like 50mm waste pipe typically found in UK bathrooms.

When we returned to the "camp" where there were around 10-15 more elephants all chained up to trees and not able to walk we dismounted the elephant and left.

We were so outraged and gobsmacked by the whole ordeal and felt we had to report the company but after some searching could not find anywhere to do so, thus we are writing to you.

We have 3 videos of the trip and plenty of photos.

We have reported this to PETA and a national trust in Thaland. We have no idea what use it will do. But avoid this operator:

Khaosok Discovery Co., Ltd. 
11/36 Moo 5, Chalong, Muang, Phuket, Thailand 83130
Tel. 076-521-857 Fax. 076-521-858
http://www.khaosokdiscovery.com
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Thankyou for your comment. This is exactly the sort of experience I want to avoid. Both for our own sake, and as paying for this encourages it to continue. –  WW. May 6 '12 at 3:26
    
The authorities here are not likely to stamp down on mistreatment - there is just too much tourist money involved. You only have to see what happened last year with the tiger abuse claims against the so-called Tiger Temple made by the WFFT (see here thaivisa.com/forum/topic/…) - it also escalated to a famous Elephant reserve having legally owned rescued elephants seized and the elderly owner arrested. –  Wolf5370 Jun 14 '12 at 11:16
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