On the first day we arrived, we were taken to Maetang Elephant Park in Chiang Mai, and ever since then I can't stop thinking about whether or not these parks are ethical. Maetung Elephant Park is a place you're able to watch elephant shows and 'enjoy' elephant rides. It's always great to see these magnificent creatures but I can't help but feel sorry for them. There's a mixed review about this place on TripAdvisor, some say it's completely horrible and cruel, another person said there was no sign of cruelty. From what I saw, I didn't particular enjoy it and I felt a lot discomfort while watching the show
First off, the trainers use these large pick like metal prodding device to urge the elephant to do things. It looked like they were hacking the elephant from their ear. This make me super uncomfortable, and I thought, isn't that cruel and painful? Some would disagree and say that the the metal prodding device would only generate a tap as elephant skin is really tough, but who am I to know? Some elephants were rather submissive and just followed the trainers prompts, although some looked annoyed and it took a few more 'taps' from the trainer for it to follow instructions. So while watching the show, although it was great to view elephants, I felt somewhat guilty and really uncomfortable. I kind of wanted the whole thing to stop. I also saw one of the trainers kicking an elephant in the shins. Why? Why would you do that? Even though it probably wouldn't hurt the elephant, why would you do something so demeaning? I could tell the elephant kind of got annoyed because it walked away from the trainer. That whole ordeal made me question the staff and the whole park.
We also went on an elephant ride, this made me super uncomfortable and anxious because I'm scared of open air heights and I felt like I was contributing to the degradation of the elephants back. The scenery is utterly amazing with lush green leafy plants and fruit trees surrounding the walkway. It was quite enjoyable I suppose, but I felt like I was going to fall off and spent the entire ride tensed up. The park has a lot of elephants of various sizes and ages, they were all beautiful but I just wondered if they were happy. A lot of them, when there wasn't any shows on were chained up, albeit some were walking freely.
During the elephant ride, there are a number of little tree huts that have women selling bananas and sugar cane for 30 Baht, which you're able to purchase for the elephant. After going on this elephant ride, I never want to sit on an elephant again, unless it's bareback, but I don't think I have the balance or courage to do that. Bareback is much healthier, more ethical and less strenuous on the elephant. I'm not too sure about people sitting on the head though.
Maetang Elephant Park wasn't horrific, it was just a bit dodgy and made me question the real value of the place, whether it be the health and sanctity of the elephants or money. Paintings and artworks created by the elephants are also available for purchase, and according to the voice over during the show, goes towards medical and food bills for the elephants. They do get sick elephants and nurse them to health, I saw a rather skinny elephant all by itself eating leaves from a giant bulk stack.
What I recommend doing, is doing some research before you decide that you want to see elephants in Thailand. Not all of them are great, although there are some genuine sanctuary type elephant parks. And I'm strongly suggesting that you don't partake in elephant rides, because how would you feel if there were two people sitting on a bench strapped to your body and were forced to walk around?