Thailand and its Tourism - Are We Making The Right Choices?

Thailand and its Tourism - Are We Making The Right Choices?

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on Oct 26, 2016

In today’s connected world, it’s impossible to go more than a few minutes of scrolling through Instagram without seeing a picture of a friend, celebrity or just about anybody posing against the backdrop of foreign lands. For gap-year students in particular, uploading shots of their adventures to social media has become almost as integral as the idea of travelling itself. Perhaps more than any other destination at the moment, Thailand is consistently hashtagged and geotagged as a destination youths flock to, to find themselves and, in turn, witness the beauty that Thailand has to offer. From serene seas, crystal shores and white sand beaches, to the array of wildlife roaming the lands, Thailand certainly has a lot to offer – but are the animals we see really as free as we’re led to believe?

Taking photo of an elephant

Since the 1800s, the population of elephants has dropped significantly. A huge part of this was due to poaching and ivory trade, but while you may think this prehistoric method has been left in the past, the sad fact of the matter is, trade is still rife today alongside other cruel methods of torture that many well-meaning tourists may not even be aware of. Tourism in Thailand can unfortunately be irresponsible, which means that the numbers of these glorious creatures continues to dwindle. On a basic level, elephant habitats are constantly being destroyed in place of hotels and resorts, and the animals themselves are tragically still being captured for trade and to become slaves to tourism. Today, there are only 40,000 Asian elephants left in the wild – with estimations as low as 2000 wild elephants left in Thailand alone.

‘The selfie generation’ as we know it can, at times, care more about the amount of ‘likes’ they get on their posts – so much to the point where inadvertent harm can be caused to animals. Many tourist hotspots in Thailand have come under fire in the past due their shocking treatment of endangered animals - take Tiger Temple, for example, where the captive creatures were frequently sedated, whipped and beaten into submission to enable tourists to get as close as possible to the animals. Behaviour like this is obviously harrowing, with footage circulating the internet and, sometimes, even resulting in these tourist destinations being shut down. But what could be so awful about the treatment of elephants that we don’t yet all know about?

Elephant back riding

While sitting atop such a huge, glorious creature like an elephant may seem like a relatively harmless thing to do, the truth is, elephants go through horrific torture from a young age which forces them to be submissive enough to allow tourists to sit on their backs. This method of spirit breaking is known as ‘Phajaan’, or ‘the crush.’ Disturbing footage of this has circulated online, garnering plenty of attention and outrage from animal lovers worldwide. Many people’s opinions on elephant back riding have been changed by this footage, but perhaps the story of a British man being trampled to death (Independent, 2016) would be enough to signify to the rest of us that elephants should not be subject to this amount of stress and torture.

So how are we able to help? While tourism isn’t an inherently bad thing, making the right choices while on our adventures is increasingly vital to the survival of elephants and other animals, ensuring that these already endangered species are able to survive for generations to come. It’s still possible to help the elephants through sustainable tourism, with many wonderful sanctuaries and conservation's existing which people are able to visit. People should be witnessing them in their natural habitats as they are meant to be, and there are plenty of tours, volunteer projects and destinations which enable you to responsibly view animals, as well as the opportunity to take plenty of photographs and to create memories that not even an elephant could forget.

Feeding an elephant

Update - July 2017

A couple of months ago, you may have read our blog about the re-opening of Thailand's 'Tiger Temple.' Unfortunately, it seems as if our concerns for these animals have fallen on deaf ears, as the group behind Tiger Temple have now received new licensing under the name 'Golden Tiger Co.' This, in turn, has allowed them to reopen their doors - and tragically, they are still receiving guests who want to get up close to the abused animals. You can read more about that here.

On a more positive note (and linking more closely to the animals featured throughout this article), since the time of writing Tripadvisor have withdrawn their support for any attractions involving the use of animals, meaning the operators that once made money through activities such as elephant back riding have now lost a huge platform. This is a big step forward for animal conservation, but we must continue to push for an overall ban of such trips.

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