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10 Tips to Select an Elephant Camp: A Guide to Responsible Tourism

Embarking on a journey to have an experience with elephants is an exciting adventure and an incredible opportunity to interact with one of the most intelligent and charismatic animals in the world. However, with the growing awareness of ethical concerns surrounding elephant tourism, it's crucial to choose a camp that prioritizes well-being and ethical care. Here are 10 tips, backed by scientific studies, to help you navigate and make responsible choices during your visit to an elephant tourist camp:


1. Research the Camp's Philosophy: Begin by understanding the camp's approach to elephant care. Look for facilities that emphasize conservation, ethical treatment, and the overall welfare of the elephants. However, it's important to note that the name of a camp, whether it claims to be a sanctuary, orphanage, or refuge, doesn't guarantee ethical practices, as there are no regulations governing such names.


2. Check for Accreditation: Opt for camps that are accredited by reputable organizations, like the Asian Captive Elephant Standards (ACES). This ensures adherence to ethical and welfare standards.


3. Don't Rely Solely on Camp Activities: A camp's activities, whether observation or riding, don't automatically define the level of welfare provided. If the camp offers elephant rides, inquire about their policies. A study by Kongsawasdi et al. (2021)* found that carrying 15% of the body mass of the elephant does not cause significant changes in gait patterns, indicating that well-managed elephant riding can be done safely without causing harm or stress.


4. Consider the Camp's Collaboration with Experts: Camps collaborating with veterinarians, zoologists, or reputable organizations demonstrate a commitment to the well-being of elephants. Ensure the camp has a network of knowledgeable partners and engages in ongoing research to improve practices.


5. Observe Elephant Behavior: Pay attention to the behavior of the elephants. Content and relaxed elephants exhibit signs of good welfare. Agitation, repetitive behaviors, or signs of distress should raise concerns about the camp's practices.


6. Evaluate Living Conditions: Assess the living conditions of the elephants. Look for spacious enclosures, access to natural elements like water and shade, and signs of mental and physical stimulation.


7. Engage with Mahouts: Take the time to interact with the mahouts (elephant caretakers). Their dedication to the elephants and their insights can provide valuable information about the camp's practices.


8. Understand Care Practices: Inquire about the care practices employed, including feeding, veterinary care, and exercise routines. A study by Bansiddhi et al. (2019)** suggests that providing opportunities to exercise may be good for elephants under human care, contributing to their overall well-being.


9. Check Visitor-to-Elephant Ratio: Overcrowded camps can lead to stress for elephants. Ensure that the camp maintains a reasonable visitor-to-elephant ratio to prevent overcrowding and undue stress.


10. Trust Responsible Reviews: Seek reviews from reputable sources that focus on responsible tourism and ethical considerations. Don't solely rely on online reviews that may lack critical insights.


By following these tips you can ensure that your experience at an elephant camp aligns with responsible and ethical tourism practices. Let's collectively contribute to the well-being and conservation of these incredible animals.


[CHIANG MAI, FEBRUARY 2024]


* Kongsawasdi, S.; Brown, J.L.; Boonprasert, K.; Pongsopawijit, P.; Wantanajittikul, K.; Khammesri, S.; Tajarernmuang, T.; Thonglorm, N.; Kanta-In, R.; Thitaram, C. (2021) Impact of Weight Carriage on Joint Kinematics in Asian Elephants Used for Riding. Animals 1 (2423). https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11082423

** Bansiddhi P, Brown JL, Khonmee J, Norkaew T, Nganvongpanit K, Punyapornwithaya V, et al. (2019) Management factors affecting adrenal glucocorticoid activity of tourist camp elephants in Thailand and implications for elephant welfare. PLoS ONE 14(10): e0221537. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0221537


NOTES TO EDITORS



For media inquiries, please contact:

Georgina Ashby, ACES, georgina@elephantstandards.com 


About ACES

Asian Captive Elephant Standards (ACES) is the independent, reliable and transparent link between the tourism industry and captive elephant welfare. Our camp guidelines were developed in 2015 and after much consultation we developed in 2023 a set of over 225 strict camp criteria. All criteria have been independently validated by international specialists in elephant management, veterinary care and animal welfare. Our goal is to ensure Asian elephant welfare while meeting the needs of the community and tourism stakeholders.

For more information, please visit https://www.elephantstandards.com/


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