Tag Archives: elephant tourism

Thailand Day 2- The Dark Side of Elephant Tourism

Guest post by elephant ambassador Leanne Fogarty currently traveling in Thailand.

Day 2 – Bangkok

The bus/catamaran to Koh Tao leaves at 6am so given my midnight arrival last night I decide to get a decent sleep and

spend one day in Bangkok. Two years ago I volunteered at ENP and became an Elephant Ambassador. That means we

tell people the dark side of elephant tourism that most visitors have no idea about. At ENP we learnt how tourism

elephants are not domesticated, but tortured into submission. They are plucked from the wild between 2 – 4 years of

age, still dependant on their mother’s milk. The baby’s mother and aunties were most likely slaughtered in the capture

as they tried valiantly to protect their precious infant. The baby is then placed in a tight wooden contraption, only just

big enough for itself, but not large enough for it to turn around. Over the next 3 – 10 days, depending on how strong

willed the elephant is, it is beaten with sticks, stabbed with bull hooks, starved, dehydrated, deprived of sleep and

screamed at. The “phajaan”, literally the “breaking” (of its wild spirit) is a centuries old practice in many countries with


An ele never forgets this trauma, and years later, just the sight of the bull hook is enough to make it obey, even to the

point of exhaustion, severe pain and mental anguish. An Ele Ambassador educates people about the cruelty and

isolation eles suffer, just so we can cross off one of our bucket list items. I say “we” because I too rode and elephant

before I knew what was involved. Ambassadors also provide a list of places in 5 Asian countries where you can have a

non-riding, positive elephant experience. Feeding and swimming with a happy, healthy elephant is far more exciting

than a jerky, one-hour ride where you can only just see the back of its scarred head.

Part of the “Phajaan” process involves hitting the elephant with long sticks that have sharp nails on the end.


Just one part of the horrific “Phajaan” process involves hitting the elephant’s sensitive areas (like its face and trunk) with long sticks that have sharp nails on the end. Source: unknown.

List of elephant sanctuaries by country.

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Guest post – Elephant Tourism: Travels in Thailand with Leanne Fogarty

The following guest posts are written by Leanne Fogarty, an elephant ambassador and advocate as she travels through Thailand.

Day 1 – Arrival

Finally. Nineteen hours, 11,800 km and now I am in Bangkok. I have 2 weeks in Thailand. One week in beautiful Koh Tao (Turtle Island) and one week volunteering at an elephant freedom project in Surin. The Surin Project is run by the Save Elephant Foundation – better known for its Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai. The ENP cares for 42 injured, old,or formerly abused elephants from the logging and tourism industries. Volunteers stay for a week or more, working for the “chang” (elephants) instead of the other way around. The volunteer’s donations fund the huge costs of providing medical care, a healthy, varied diet and hundreds of acres for the eles to roam. In the wild elephants can walk 24km a day. There is no elephant riding at ENP. The volunteers plant food for the eles, harvest and cut up the food, pick up dung, wash and play with the eles in the river, and walk beside them. Basically the Park lets eles – finally – BE eles.

As soon as I retrieve my bag and head for the exit, 3 huge anti-ivory posters block my path. Impressive! So it IS true. Thailand is working on its contribution to the poaching crisis. Let’s hope it also becomes sensitive to the abuse of its elephants in the name of entertainment and the mighty tourist dollar.

The warning signs at Bangkok airport. Source: Leanne FogartyThailand airport

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When you ride elephants, watch them paint or beg in the street, you are supporting this:

1234177_739106516116457_73281306_n”Phajaan to Tourist Attraction: Elephant Tourism in Thailand”


Everyone, tourists especially, needs to be educated as to the plight of the Asian elephant. These animals’ spirits are broken through a ritual known as the Phajaan; baby elephants are prematurely ripped away from their mothers. They are then caged, starved, beaten, stabbed, poked and cut as they are kept awake for days without food or water.

Once “broken”, the young elephants are forced into a life of street-begging, trekking (rides), and “entertainment”, eg. circuses, painting, zoos, etc.

Please EDUCATE yourself and others! Do not support this cruelty by feeding a street beggar (baby elephant begging for food), riding on an elephant’s back (trekking) or attending a show.

* Phajaan Ritual (VIDEO): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVckvi_gWVo

* Further INFO/PHOTOS on Phajaan:



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