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Elephant Trekking in Phuket

Elephant trekking in PhuketIn former times wild elephants roamed Phuket Island but as tin mining and rubber plantations changed the natural environment elephants slowly disappeared. As recently as three years ago the only elephants to be found on Phuket were at tourist attractions like the 'Thai Village' or the 'Crocodile Farm'. In late 1994, 'Siam Safari Nature Tours' pioneered the concept offering visitors to the island an opportunity to ride on an elephant on their property in the hills overlooking Chalong Bay. Regulated and controlled properly 'elephant trekking' can offer a much-needed lift to the tourism industry, and generate the funds to assure the survival of thousands of elephants in a dignified manner. Unfortunately, the opposite is equally possible in the current uncontrolled rush to 'cash in' on this latest business opportunity. As the number of new elephant camps increase so do the reports of overworked and abused elephants. Informed visitors who demand humane treatment for the elephants may be the last best chance to save many of these majestic creatures.

The unpleasant reality is the natural habitat of the Asian Elephant has diminished to the point that only an estimated 2,000 survive in the wild. A number not generally believed large enough to maintain the essential genetic-diversity to ensure the survival of the species in the wild. Traditionally domesticated elephants were used as transport, and in the logging industry moving cut timber. All logging was officially banned in Thailand in 1989. Elephants that had been employed to move logs in the forest became unemployed, that is why they can now be seen in Bangkok and tourist areas literally 'begging' for a living. It costs approximately US$500 per month to feed and care for an elephant in captivity. In the modern world elephants have an almost human-like problem of needing to be gainfully employed in order to survive. With the survival of these majestic and highly intelligent creatures increasingly in doubt. It is more important than ever for visitors to understand they have the power to make a positive difference. Informed visitors to Thailand can support the humane treatment of these gracious beasts by carefully selecting the elephant camp they visit. As with any high growth industry 'elephant trekking' is subject to abuse.

  1. Avoid elephant operations that allow the Mahouts (elephant keeper) to use the dreaded metal hook to control the animal. This device is cruel and unnecessary for a well trained and happy elephant, but are legal in Thailand and are frequently used.

  2. The dawn to dusk regime of many elephant camps is unhealthy for the animals. Adult elephants need to graze for 8 to 10 hours a day. Elephants are forest animals and do not like being in the direct sunlight. Avoid camps that have the animals staked outside in the sun all day.

  3. Elephants are nervous around automobiles, and loud noises, and they do not eat properly when in this type of environment. Many of the roadside elephant camps are offering little more than a 'photo opportunity' of you while riding atop an elephant, before it plods slowly down a well worn path for your ten minute elephant trek. If it looks like a fly-by-night operation it probably is one. Avoid the elephant camps that appear to have just opened yesterday.

Click here to see our Photo Gallery of Elephant Trekking in Phuket

Please!  Never go near an elephant without its mahout (handler) not all of the elephants are accustomed to being around unfamiliar people so using caution is advisable.

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Thai history is rich in elephantElephants are the largest living land mammals on Earth. Thai history is rich in elephant lore and this venerable beast and plays a major role in Thai culture. Ancient Siam (Thailand) was constantly at war and in warfare of that day elephants had a tactical importance similar to that of tanks today.  As a beast of burden, the elephant is not a great success, for the average load it can carry is no more than about 600 pounds (270kg), though it is claimed that the Japanese, during World War II, loaded four tons of ammunition on individual animals. After a day's work an elephant needs to be released into the forest and allowed feed itself for much of the night to ingest the necessary 350-Kg of vegetation required for an adult. It is when foraging for the more nutritious food that can only be found in forested areas that elephants often clash with local villagers and farmers. For example, elephants are fond of pineapple and are apparently delighted to find them planted in neat rows, irritated farmers have been known to poison or shoot the elephants for damaging fences and crops.

It is estimated that at least several thousand elephants are now being used by illegal logging operations that have sprung up since Thailand banned legal logging a decade ago. Today, many unscrupulous operators drug the elephants to make them work harder. No law protects these majestic beasts from cruelty at the hands of their owners despite the fact that Thailand's former national symbol is now an endangered species. Many underfed elephants addicted to amphetamines die or suffer horribly as a result of cruelty and ignorance.

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Elephant in Phuket ForestElephants have been in the news a lot lately, and none of it has been good: elephants being poisoned for raiding pineapple farms, elephants being fed amphetamines to make them work harder, rogue elephants being shot dead; an elephant killed an Australian tourist.

The following article appeared in the Bangkok Post on December 19,1997 and is unfortunately very common.

An autopsy on a bull elephant that died of shock in Hang Chat district has revealed that it died of overwork and maltreatment.

Preecha Puangkham, a veterinarian from the Elephant Hospital, said that the elephant which died in a rice field in Ban Na Bua, died of shock because it was worked too hard. The animal also suffered from malnutrition, lack of rest and a changing climate.

According to the autopsy, Plai Ek, the 20-year-old bull elephant, suffered internal bleeding in its major organs including the heart, brain, liver and abdomen.

"From my experience, I can say that it might have died of shock as its heart was found to have much fat. This showed that it had earlier worked too hard. Congestion of the blood in important organs caused Plai Ek to have convulsions," Mr Preecha said.

On the hypothesis made by villagers that the elephant was poisoned, he said the hospital had to wait for the results of an autopsy from the Northern Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Centre before making a final conclusion, adding it is expected the details will be made public on Monday.

He also voiced concern that more than 30 elephants, used for illegal logging in the same area where Plai Ek lived, might be at risk.

According to Mr Preecha, the Elephant Hospital will keep a close watch on more than 50 sick elephants under its care to prevent them from infection until it is certain that Plai Ek did not die of a communicable disease.

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17/2 Soi Yod Sane, Moo 10, Chalong, Phuket, 83130 Thailand
Tel:  280 116
Fax: 280 107
International Fax:+66 76 280 107,

The first elephant treks on Phuket were along jungle trails on their property in the hills above Ao Chalong. Also a strong advocate in practicing Eco-Tourism 'Siam Safari has won numerous awards from the travel industry and from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

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Published by the Plain Paper Guide Book Co., Ltd. by Gary L. Ebsen


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