The Owner of a Thai Elephant Retreat on the Ethics of Elephant Tourism
After spending so much time on the water, I’m glad to be back on land and heading to the Phang Nga Elephant Park. It’s a small family-run operation in southern mainland Thailand that offers ethical elephant tourism. Jake Thaotad and his cousin Lek Songkaw set up the park in 2015 after Thaotad returned from London, England, where he was working as a microbiologist. Thaotad tells us that his family have been involved with elephants for 150 years and that helping domesticated elephants is paramount to their mission.
“We let our visitors interact with them in a way that isn’t exploitive,” he says. “It hurts me a lot when people say that all Thais are cruel to their elephants as it is simply untrue. But what we have to realize is that without tourism, elephant owners have no means to care for these wonderful animals. It is unrealistic to think that thousands of elephants can be homed in a handful of sanctuaries. And talk of turning them loose is unrealistic firstly because Thailand does not have the land and secondly because domesticated animals cannot be left to fend for themselves. So what I want is a world where healthy and contented elephants can be used but never abused.”