The Hutsadin Elephant Foundation
There are many reasons to love elephants. They’re majestic, powerful beasts that we draw parallels to because of their deep family bonds, their soulfulness, as well as their playfulness. Watching a baby elephant running around, it’s tongue hanging out, is pure joy. It’s like watching a puppy. Except that puppies don’t weight 1.5 tons and won’t crush you as they’re rushing down that path eager to jump in a puddle of mud. We also love elephants because, like us, they are all very different. Physically they can be big, short, fat, tall; personality-wise they can be affectionate, independent, or playful. And their moods and personalities can change on a dime. They can be moody, temperamental and stubborn. And dangerous. Sometimes we forget that these wonderful beast are also wild animals.
We experienced all of the above last Friday.
5 minutes from Hua Hin is the Hutsadin Elephant Foundation. Unlike the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, it falls under the radar; Hutsadin doesn’t get international funding, doesn’t receive endorsements from famous actors, and gets very little (if any) attention from bloggers. What it does do is care for old or abandoned elephants who have been abused or left for dead. It does this through the work of some very dedicated volunteers, private donations, as well as tours and shows aimed at visitors. The last part won’t appeal to the purists. But, as I say, not everyone has the luxury of being Elephant Nature Park and Hutsadin has the same noble intentions with much less resources. I’m writing this post in order to spread the word about Hutsadin. I will also reach out to some bigger bloggers in the hope that they do the same. We hope it will eventually result in greater funding and support for this foundation.
Our unforgettable ‘Mahout experience’
The Mahout Experience is available, upon demand, 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays) between 9 am and 12 noon. It involves meeting, feeding and washing all the elephants as well as going for a walk with one of them (not riding them). It is centered around the elephant experience, not the human, and is a great way to experience what elephants and their handlers go through on a daily basis. Rates: 1000 Baht per person which includes a free t-shirt and a vegetarian lunch.
Note: this blog received no compensation or freebies for this post. We wrote it because we believe elephant conservation is a noble cause.
We actually got more than we bargained with on this day. Both positively and negatively.
We were greeted a little after 9am by one of the volunteers, Will. Passionate and energetic, he would later respond the most impressively when things didn’t quite go according to script. I’ll get to that later in the post.
A few minutes into our information session with Will we were beckoned by another volunteer to the temple located within the foundation’s main building. This is where we where we first saw Song Kran, the foundation’s one and only baby elephant:
We were told – and Will was adamant that there was no training of any sort involved – that Song Kran had started following her mahout around during his morning prayers and would mimic his prayers.
We followed them both outside and saw them praying at another shrine. We went back in as they continued their rounds.
– The Foundation currently has 6 elephants including 1 baby (Song Kran above), 4 females varying in age between their mid 20’s and mid-50’s, and one male in his mid-60s.
– The foundation has to buy elephants from their owners. Song Kran for example cost them 1 million baht (about 30,000 USD). Even if elephants are injured or require medication that the owners can’t afford, they are assets and won’t be given to the foundation to care for. They have to be bought.
– Elephants live roughly the same number of years as adults and their age cycle is similar to that of humans (ie. a 6 year old is still regarded as a baby just as an 83 year old is considered elderly).
– Pregnancy lasts roughly 22 months (almost 2 years) in elephants. Female elephants will usually start reproducing at around 12-14 years of age and the interval between calves can be around 5 years.
– Male elephants leave their mother, and the herd, when they hit adolescence. They form ‘bachelor groups’ and, usually around the age of 30, will begin breeding with females and will temporarily rejoin herds when looking for a mate.
– Asian male elephants get into ‘musth’, a period when they are highly sexual and aggressive, starting at around 20 years of age. Musth can last 1-2 months (depending on the age of the elephant) and elephants in captivity must be chained to a tree for the safety of everyone around them. Musth usually fades in frequency and intensity when elephants hit their mid -50’s.
– Boon Mee is Hutsadin’s only male elephant and he was in musth during our visit. In his mid-60’s, he hadn’t been through musth for 5 years.
A very good site for those looking to learn more about elephant behaviour
– very important – Taxi drivers in Hua Hin will try to take you to the nearby Elephant Village because they are given a commission by the owners. This is not a foundation and they don’t own or care for the elephants. They rent them from the owners for tourist purposes. Don’t go there. Just look on Trip Advisor – most tourists are appalled by how the elephants there are treated.
Meeting the Elephants
Rham Rhouy is a female in her mid-80’s. She’s huge and it’s a bit intimidating standing next to her. It’s hard to imagine that only a short time ago she had been tied to a tree and left to die. She had lost weight and didn’t eat. The foundation bought her and changed her diet. Turns out that the only thing wrong with her were her teeth which had eroded to the point that she could no longer chew her food. She’s gained back her weight and is now full of energy.
Tong Kam was rescued by the foundation in 2011 through a generous donation. She is in her early 40s. She doesn’t like people riding her and because of this she’ s always been used in forestry work (which is much harder for an elephant than a working in the tourist industry). When she was rescued she had a work related injury. In the past she was shy of people – she’s no longer shy and is incredibly gentle. She’s now a lovable fatty and ended up being our favorite elephant at the foundation.
Pheung Wan is an elephant recently obtained by the foundation (although they are still trying to collect enough money to buy her). The owner let them have her early because of a back leg injury which requires care and medication. She’s always been a tourist elephant and doesn’t like having the seat on her back taken off. Which is why it’s almost always on. She’s used to people and, like Tong Kam, is friendly. We spent a long time feeding her watermelons and pineapples.
Lia Tong is a 20-something year old female who previously worked in the tourism industry. Here’s a photo of big Lia Tong.
Boon Mee is the only male elephant and is usually a sweet and gentle giant. So much so that earlier this year poachers broke onto the grounds of the foundation and cut off his tusks. He’s recovered fine however and was in musth when we visited. This means being tied up far from the other elephants.
The Elephant walk that didn’t go according to plan
We had an eventful walk with 6 year old Song Kran. Everything was going well; she seemed relaxed and walked step-in-step with her mahout, rubbed herself against a tree, even laid out on the grass. But then she suddenly got very agitated and ran off into the trees, her tail in the air. Her mahout called out to her but Song Kran didn’t listen. We could see her running around back and forth amongst the trees, barking. At least 20 minutes was spent following her, trying to get her to come back…and nothing worked until big Lia Tong came up from the camp, her mahout on her back. Lia Tong cut off the baby elephant, even bellowed at her (which is a very impressive thing to hear from up close). Song Kran was corralled back to camp but it didn’t end there…more bellowing ensued among the elephants. We would later see Will leading Song Kran by the ear back to her enclosure and were impressed by his calmness and control of the situation.
We’ll admit it was a bit scary seeing an elephant running around out of control. We just wanted to make sure we had room to get out of its way. In the end all was fine. As one of the volunteers pointed out, it’s good to be reminded from time to time that elephants are wild animals. What could have triggered the way she acted? It could have been a snake. Nobody knows.
Elephant show and lunch
Our tour concluded with a 10 minute elephant show. It should actually be called “the Song Kran show” because Song Kran, now back to normal, went into a routine that included playing a harmonica, putting a basketball through a basket, kicking a soccer ball, and breaking out into a funky dance which had everyone laughing. The purists wouldn’t approve and it probably doesn’t belong in an elephant foundation. But you could see that Song Kran revelled in the attention and the crowd, most who had shown up just to see the show, loved it. I would imagine that it, along with elephant rides on Pheung Wan and Lia Tong, brings in most of the foundation’s revenues.
We had a wonderful vegetarian lunch, given our t-shirts, and took the taxi back to Hua Hin. A very enjoyable morning.
Conclusion: We were very impressed by the volunteers and staff as well as the facilities. People may criticize some of the activities they offer to raise money. In an ideal world they wouldn’t have elephant rides or elephant shows. But the bottom line is that all money goes into saving, caring, and feeding elephants. As animal lovers these are objectives we’ll always support.
Note: I’ve received a lot of negative comments below on how Hutsadin carries on it’s operations. I would urge you to read this Tripadvisor review and the reply by the foundation.
For more information check out Hutsadin’s website or facebook page.
Related: Things to consider before settling in Hua Hin, Thailand. And why it isn’t for us
Related: Getting to Ayutthaya, Thailand. Stories of Train rides and drunk Germans…
Related: Ko Yao Noi, Thailand – a less touristy option to Phang Nga Bay
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I noticed people are riding them
It has been proven that this isn’t good for them. So calling this place a sanctuary is a stretch.
Lots of comments on that below, you can read my thoughts there.
Yes, and if only people didn’t starve, governments weren’t corrupt, there weren’t wars or we didn’t have climate change. Unfortunately it’s not a perfect world and we can only be thankful that some people at least attempt to do their best with what they have.
Hi Frank – Sorry, its not at all clear from my text, but as far as elephants were concerned, I was referring to elephant poaching in the rest of Africa overall, and where, elephant poaching is a total horror story – the latest chapter being the consequences of the S. Sudanese ‘war’,and where antelope have been and are mowed down by machine guns ! Man at his best – or hungriest ? The rest of Africa still has elephants ( or at least some…) and therefore elephant poaching, whereas the white and black rhino are to all intend and purpose extinct outside of S. Africa, and can only be poached there. Yes, S.Africa (and Botswana ) have had tremendous success with their elephant protection in recent decades,and the populations have rocketed – to the extent ‘over population’ and ‘habitat destruction’ by the elephants themselves has become a big problem ! Until the last year or two poaching of elephants was not a serious problem, even in the Kruger National Park ( the KNP is alongside the Mozambique and Zimbabwe borders). This year elephant poaching has more than doubled in South Africa – basically in the KNP – and it seems the poachers have started to set their sights on our beloved S African jumbos as the herds in the rest of Africa decline, dwindle and head into extinction. Evidently there are some plans to eventually repopulate other African countries with S African elephants (a great project in theory that would solve both sides’ problems) but in MHP its a pipedream – complex elephant family social structure and needs, the sheer cost of moving and shipping entire families out of S Africa, and of course the total impotence and incapacity (much like as you mention about SE Asia ?) of almost all African countries to effectively administer, operate and run national parks, let alone provide the necessary protection against poachers – which even S Africa is finding out is an impossible task. All rather distressing .
Thanks so much Tony, always great hearing the African perspective.
Hi Frank – your “elephant posting” has really ignited a lot of passions, as well it could be expected to, I guess !
We too had v mixed emotions on some of the (few) operations we saw in Thailand, but the Thai elephant “problem” is just part of, and reflects a general, far more widespread World “problem” . Its all part and parcel of the same dilemmas that are facing us all – our Societies , our cultures and diversities. Preserving our incredibly rich and varied biological and botanical heritage and wealth .
Unfortunately, we all hv to face up to the reality that Man (generic form) seldom does anything ‘good’ unless there are hefty financial incentives attached to doing so ! Our economic system is based almost entirely on the fact that profits and material ‘wellbeing’ are a direct result of exploitation, whether it be resources or labour. And hisorically that seems to hv been pretty much always the case. But with technological advances, population growth etc and as the world has become increasingly economically integrated, the pressure to exploit (read; destroy ?) the resources- and labour – has expanded (worsened ..) expotentially – whether it be the equatorial forests, gas fracking in the US West, or the Oil sands ‘mining’ and destruction of the boreal habitat in Canada, to name but a few. Sure, with it has come rising standards of living, particularly in the ’emerging world’, but it has also bred a slew of other often more serious problems affecting us all.
The ‘elephant problem’ in Thailand, and elsewhere, is but one of the resulting numerous casualties – or as our powers like to say, ‘collateral damage’ ! Elephants no longer have much, or any economic use, so – under our system – they are no longer ‘worth’ anything. Things must have an economic value, otherwise they are worthless ! Throw them out with the rest of the ‘obsolete’ junk and waste of our disposable society !
South Africa has gone to tremendous lengths to preserve its biological and botanical heritage, over the decades setting in place a network of huge, unique, well run national parks, supplemented by a great many private (for profit..) game reserves. But despite its efforts, rhino poaching continues to soar. This year for the first time, more rhinos have been killed by poachers than the natural population growth…. Elephant poaching continues to grow by leaps and bounds – the reason for both being the soaring prices of rhino horn and ivory in Asia . The rising wealth of the middle and upper classes in China, SE Asia and elsewhere is just fueling the rocketing price of these items – making poaching more worthwhile and lucrative. Great financial incentives are in place to destroy. Nothing at all is in place to encourage preservation or protection !!!
And its no longer the individual, ‘amateur’ poacher behind the destruction – its the crime gangs and professionals, as many ‘shoot to kill’ fire fights between wardens and poachers in S Africa and elsewhere have shown. Over the last couple of years, poaching has been linked overwhelmingly to Chinese – and oddly enough, Vietnamese – crime syndicates (mafia !) . With rhinos, S. Africa is so desperate that it is now in the process of moving over 200 rhinos away from the national parks along the Zimbabwe and Mozambique borders (where the dire poverty of the people just facilitates the poaching, to Botswana, over 1.000 kms west, where there is little poaching activity – at least for now ! The programme will be enlarged and extended if it proves even moderately successful.
And the poaching and destruction are just so much more serious and worse in other African nations to the north, where things are exasperated further by lack of expertise, money or political will. Some (WWF amongst others) estimates forecast that most of Africa’s indigenous animals – including the Big Five – will be largely extinct in the wild by 2025 – just as has happened, or is happning so rapidly in Asia – tigers in India, onyx in Arabia, snow leopards etc – and of course, the lovable, if largely domesticated , Asian elephant ! It seems the Asian (Java) rhino in the wild is already probably extinct – the last reported sighting (in Vietnam) was in 2011….
At this stage of the saga I am very much of the opinion that pretty much any operation that somehow, someway preserves and protects whats left of our biological heritage and diversity – including the Thai elephants – must be accepted, and encouraged – provided that there is some form of central governance and tight oversight to ensure the proper treatment of, and well being of, the animals concerned – in this case elephants. If the Thai Govt cannot or will not establish or set aside large areas of wild space to support not only its wildlife – its elephants – the least it can do is ensure that the private-for-profit, and charitable / volunteer operations are properly run and operated for the animals and their well being.
With tourism soaring in Thailand, how about a worthwhile tourist ‘elephant levy’ to fund the acquisition of land, establishment of bonafide, protected reserves sufficiently large to support the animals, as well as the administration and enforcement of same ? Such a ‘tax’ would have the unequivocal support of all tourists, and could/would go a long way to ensuring regular and well funded means, and the enforcement of high, good and tight standards governing the elephant ‘parks’ The situation in Thailand – and internationally – is so dire, that we really need some form, a new approach, if we are to save our faune – and not just the elephants !
“We” have to provide enough in the way of financial interest and incentives to make it worthwhile for the people – any people, anywhere in the world – to protect, preserve and enhance their wild-life and natural heritage, whatever they may be. At present the financial incentives everywhere are to destroy – forests, mineral resources, rivers, water, – and the rhino, elephant, and lions (along with everything else) . How can we, should we turn around things ?
One thing is pretty certain . Without some drastic parametres and policies being implemented – and a lot sooner than later – general travelling, visiting, tourism, and the geographical and cultural ‘enrichment’ we so much enjoy today, will largely disappear and/or become a lot less interesting and stimulating ! Worse, the richness, vibrancy and attractiveness of Culture itself, the People themselves, will suffer and be seriously weakened. Thailand without its elephants would be pretty much like Thailand without its temples…(Hmmm…) Surely ‘we’ can ensure the elephants are considered to be as much a national treasure as are the temples ?
Hi Tony. Totally agree with the above. But I’m skeptical about Thai or any other SE Asian government doing anything official to protect the elephants, whether it be protected reserves or any enforcement. They can’t even manage sidewalks in Thai towns. But you are totally right and responsible governments would do just as you say.
You mention a bit about South Africa. Didn’t I read somewhere recently that elephant abundance is actually a problem and that they’ve brought back culling? I know it was a huge issue with environmentalists very much against it. They talked about giving the elephants contraceptives but it seems the costs would be prohibitive..
This place sounds absolutely horrific! To “rescue” and elderly, sick or dying elephant only to turn around an exploit them by forcing them to give rides (with those horrible benches wrecking their spines), and making them perform tricks and are chained even when being fed and made to stand on hard concrete. It’s amazing what people will tell themselves to make them feel better about participating in the exploitation!
2 out of the 6 elephants do rides (they previously worked in tourist camps). The others don’t. I explained that one of the elephants doesn’t like to have the bench taken off its back, its what she’s used to and doesn’t feel comfortable with it off. The only ‘tricks’ are done by 6 year old Song Kran and it lasts 10 minutes a day. Chains: shorter chains during the day, very long chains outside the 9-5 when tourists come (and they do not stand on hard concrete, they go out onto the fields behind the camp). What do you propose? After all, the foundation is surrounded by farms and villages.
I wish Hutsadin had commented in response to some of the comments to clarify. Disappointed that they didn’t address some of the issues. I don’t pretend to be an elephant expert BUT I can tell you that the elephants appear to be well cared for and loved.
But to call it ‘horrific’ and finish as you did is not even worth responding to. Having perused your site I see you’ve also been to Elephant Nature Park. I’ve said it before; they’ve done a great job. But you guys have blinders on and see everything in shades of black and white and can’t see the effort other people are trying to make to better the lives of elephants. ENP has maybe 50 elephants, so where does that leave others? You’d rather have them die in the hands of their owners than cared for by a non-profit foundation trying their best to help other elephants? It might not be absolute perfection but I can assure your it’s a hundred times better than being tied to a tree most of the day with a 5 foot chain.
I would say your comment was harmless if it didn’t just take away credit from other people’s efforts. And you’re vegans to boot? great. I guess Jack above hit the nail on the head.
I wrote this post to shine the light on a non-profit foundation trying to better the life of elephants. I didn’t think I would be the ‘bad guy’ promoting ‘elephant cruelty’. I would suggest bloggers, especially all those claiming to be elephant activists, to go on tour visiting, evaluating, providing feedback, and monitoring these foundations/sanctuaries (I’m not pointing out you guys but some bigger bloggers who I’ve approached). It would be more productive than just shooting something down when you’ve haven’t been and don’t know what you’re talking about. Go there, talk to Will and the volunteers, ask your questions – and THEN shoot the place down if you still don’t like it. It would be a lot more productive.
Ligeia and Mindy
Hello again Frank,
Thanks for visiting our site and for responding to my initial comment. Here are our thoughts on your response:
We lived in Thailand for 2.5 years and are very familiar with the elephant situation there (certainly not experts but very familiar), including the history of the use of elephants, the changes in the elephant-mahout relationship, logging, the rise of the Phajaan etc. Yes, you are correct in that we have been to Elephant Nature Park (about 100 times) and even lived there for a few weeks. Our information on elephants does not only come from there, however. For those looking for an alternative to ENP, we recommend Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) near Sukkothai. There are also a few other actual sanctuaries that have very recently opened up and encourage visitors to explore these options.
In regards to the elephant who would not take off the bench, this is a common reaction that abuse victims have. Some elephants have been so conditioned that they can’t even eat unless they are chained. This is not dissimilar to humans who have been abused who can’t go to the bathroom unless they are granted permission or can’t eat unless certain familiar conditions are met. These can go away in time as the elephant/person is encouraged to do so. For example, for an elephant who can’t eat unless s/he is chained, the chain can be there at first without being fastened to anything, and then over time the chain is shortened until the elephant can eat chain-free. The absence of the bull hook, which serves to remind the elephants of the brutal phajaan, can also help with this.
You suggested that we go to this place, and presumably others like it, to see for ourselves and then report on it. But there are fundamental things that we strongly disagree with and therefore do not want to support such exploitation by giving money or even attention to, frankly.
So that brings us to your very good question: What to do? And do we want to see elephants die etc? Well, firstly, no, we most certainly do not want to see elephants die…for any reason. However, it seems you are very much over-simplifying the elephant situation in Thailand and forcing the issue into a black and white one. The answer to solve this problem (and there are some Thais actively trying to do so) of there being many elephants with no place to go will have to be multi-fold. All the elephants can not simply be released into the wild (and places that say they do this are lying) because due to the extensive logging that eventually got banned in 1989 but still continues illegally, there is not even close to enough jungle left for elephants to live and thrive. There are currently about 1500 wild elephants left in Thailand and they mostly live in a few of the National Parks, by the way. So one thing to do would be to rejuvenate the jungles. Another aspect to this is to help people see animals more than entertainment and something that can provide them something. Help show mahouts and camp owners that tourists are more interested in watching elephants in the wild and caring for them instead of exploiting them and watching tricks, riding, painting, soccer games and war re-enactments. This industry is profit-driven, like most industries, so if the demand changes, so too will the camps.
And for your information, you might be interested to know that because the number of elephants to capture in Thailand is dwindling, people have been going to neighboring Burma to capture wild elephants, push them through the phajaan and start them performing and making their owners money. Because baby elephants are the most popular for tourists and bring in the profits, an entire herd of elephants in Burma will be killed and the baby taken and smuggled across the border to Thailand. How do they smuggle an elephant? Bribes all the way. It is quite common nowadays and given that unlike Thailand, Burma still has many wild elephants, this brutal act will continue as long as the demand for performing elephants is in demand in Thailand. At this rate, the Asian elephant will be no more, making this whole debate obsolete.
And by the way, often camp owners will say that the mother died and so they rescued the baby, but leave out the fact that the mother was actually killed in order to get the baby.
And finally, to say that a place is better than others only serves to make us feel good about our choices. Does this place make the elephants work less than other places, are the chains longer there than at others? Ok, maybe so, but is that really how you choose a place to visit? It’s not as bad as others? We can always find a place that is worse. I hope you don’t plan all your vacations this way.
The next time you find yourself in Thailand, do check out some of these new bull-hook free sanctuaries that we’ve heard about opening only months ago. That is a post we’d be interested in reading.
Appreciate your long response and good summary of the situation. Agree with all of it. We just came back from Cambodia where we saw elephants plying to cement roads around the temples of Angkor Wat with several tourists on top and it seemed pretty obvious they do this from sunrise to sundown. You get out of Thailand and I don’t think there is anything like elephant conservation/preservation.
Where we differ is in the reality of what is available and what can be done. Tourists are one thing and you are right that they should be educated so they don’t go to elephant shows. But the reality is that most of the tourists that go to these shows are locals and they have a different view of elephants which isn’t going to change anytime soon. Most Thais scoff at the idea of Elephant conservation. Let the bleeding heart foreigners go to ENP or BLES they’ll say. Rejuvenate the jungles? In place of human encroachment? That’s a dream that’s not going to happen. Take off chains? That might be fine if you have a park in the wilderness of Northern Thailand but in many other areas you have to consider surrounding farms or neighbors. So that’s not always realistic either.
Hey, I was the first one to accuse you of being black and white. What I’m saying is that instead of saying ‘no’ to a foundation/sanctuary that they should be helped to better their practices. Because other options are worse. And what I said about bigger bloggers, and there are some who are ALL about animal conservation, should be evaluating and ranking and promoting these sanctuaries/foundations so that there is competition to do better. There is no one site anywhere (correct me if I’m wrong) that fully lists and ranks all the non-profit elephant sanctuaries/foundations in Thailand. When I did my research on elephant sanctuaries I only come up with the usual suspects (ENP, BLES, Erewan). I only found out about Hutsadin through word of mouth – most people will automatically go to elephant ‘camps’ because they have the money to promote. Imagine someone who listed and ranked all the sanctuaries in one place so that eco tourist-friendly travellers could easily find the nearest elephant sanctuary? It would create a resource for like-minded travellers like ourselves. And that would lead to pressure for higher standards all around.
But, in the meantime, that’s not happening. We are in Thailand – in Nong Khai where every day we see a couple of mahouts walk baby elephants around the promenade area trying to get tourists to shell out 20 Baht to feed the elephants. I’m sure those baby elephants would be much happier in a place like Hutsadin where they can basically wander freely around the grounds most of the day (even if it entails doing a silly elephant show for 10 minutes).
Ligeia and Mindy
Just got back from protesting against the use of animals in the circus in Tampa, Florida and it made me think about your post again. We too found that most of the shows and circuses involving elephants are largely visited by Thais, especially in the South. We found that the most recent trend in the north seems to be Chinese visitors. You will be happy to know that due to the efforts of some Thais including Lek Chaillert, a Thai TV actress named Beau and two Thai film producers Ter and Dam, elephant street begging is now illegal in all of Chiang Mai and in most districts of Bangkok, except for three that are designated tourist districts. Unfortunately, nothing has been done about this in the islands. 🙁
It is a tricky thing to do in Thailand since the Tourism Authority of Thailand is run by the government and so the government is making a LOT of money by abusing and using elephants. This makes it more difficult to make these changes in Thailand since speaking out against the mistreatment of elephants is seen as directly opposing the government, a BIG no-no in Thailand that can have major consequences. Foreigners will have their visas revoked and thrown out, for example, and some Thais have actually gone missing never to be seen again.
Just like with the circus here in Tampa, I hope that one day all shows will be void of animals, whether it be Ringling Brothers circus shows or elephant shows in Thailand. There are plenty of awesome tricks that humans can do that I would much rather see. 🙂
Thanks for replying back. You’re right about the government, a bit of news here in last few days about crackdown on websites saying unfavorable things about the government. We love Thai government 😉 . We’ve had differences in opinion but agree on the same things, don’t need to see animal shows of any kind/anywhere, ideal always to see animals in a natural habitat.
Giselle and Cody
Although we can appreciate your wanting to help this camp with saving elephants, the problem is just that-it is a camp. None of these elephants are benefitting from carrying tourists on their backs, performing in silly shows, “praying”, and so on. They are chained up, and have a program called mahout for a day. That’s not a good way to save elephants. An elephants back can only handle 100 kg and the seat alone weighs 50kg, so if you do the math, they are struggling amd suffering.
Where is Song Kran’s mother through all of this? Is she on the grounds? Is she a working elephant? These are good questions to ask, as song kran should be with her mother. How many hours are they chained up per day? How long do they get to have their feet on the grass rather than on the concrete?
This is not a place that we would support. An elephant playing the harmonica and shooting hoops is exploitation, not entertainment.
If they dropped all of the clown shows, dropped the riding, and allowed the elephants to simply do what elephants do, they would make money, but that c mess with change, and they must be open to it.
A couple of things:
– Song Kran was abandoned by her mother.
– I didn’t say Hutsadin was perfect and in a perfect world I’m sure they would do things exactly as Elephant Nature Park has done. In fact, Will was the first to respond to my post in an email. “Just one thing I’d like to put straight, the mahout experience does not include the show, Jo, my wife is very anti shows, treks and tricks so that is something that she would never encourage, however sometimes it is unavoidable to see the show so our mahout guests are given the choice to either watch it or move away from the area. Sorry but that is something she’d like me to point out“. (note: Jo is Will’s wife and together they volunteer at the foundation).
The point is that the foundation, like other foundations in Thailand (that are not Elephant Nature Park), does its best to help Elephants. Some of these are injured or sick elephants that the owners can’t or won’t take care of, others are elephants from the real camps (don’t call Hutsadin a ‘camp’) where they can’t be bothered taking care of elephants when they no longer earn their keep. The volunteers work to help the elephants – they may not agree with every aspect of the operation but it is for the greater good. Jo may not agree with the shows, treks, and ‘tricks’ but that doesn’t stop her coming every day to do her share for the elephants.
– And what exactly would you do? One of the elephants they saved doesn’t want the seat taken off her back because its what she’s used to. Another likes the chain dangling from her foot because that’s what she grew up with and she doesn’t like it taken off. They’ve found that she’s more comfortable with it hanging loose from her foot. Is Hutsadin responsible for the treatment they suffered under previous owners, forest camps, or tourist shows? Is Hutsadin to blame that they don’t have a whole countryside available to them where they can roam free? Are they to blame for the apathy of ordinary Thais* to the plight of elephants? Should they abandon their well-meaning efforts because not all aspects of their operation are perfect – and in doing so just allow the elephants to die or be taken in by the ‘Elephant Villages’ of the world where they’ll be exploited and discarded when no longer of use? So why even bother?
* When going to Elephant Nature Park the Thais we stayed with were upset with us, saying it was ‘only for tourists’ and that it is not the traditional way.
I’ll tell you another thing that bothers me. Every damn blogger on the internet blogs about Elephant Nature Park and its good deeds. You can’t blog about elephants in Thailand without saying how great Elephant Nature Park is. And they all get righteous and become elephant experts. You’ve blogged about them as have we. But not everyone can be them just as every blogger can’t be Nomadic Matt – doesn’t mean other can’t try though and do the best they can for something they believe in.
So spare me the sermonizing.
I’ll forward your comment to Will and I’m sure he can give you his take as a volunteer who’s worked there for 9 years.
Sounds like your getting a bit pissed Frank. You know what? I agree with you. We’ve been to the Elephant Nature Park. Actually, we went many years ago before it was a place that every blogger went to.
They’ve done great. I know we were impressed by the number of elephants they had and all the space along the river where they could roam. But you know what? I would expect so considering all the media and bloggers that have covered them and all the money the place brings in. Heck, even volunteers have to pay $600 a week to scoop up elephant shit.
The problem is that if all sanctuaries are held up to the image of Elephant Nature Park then everything else looks like elephant neglect. Oh, you saved a baby elephant that was abandoned by its mother? You’ve taken in a working elephant that had a broken leg and have healed him? You saved an old elephant that was tied up to a tree and left to die? NOT GOOD ENOUGH if your baby elephant plays the harmonica or if a couple of the elephants in your herd have to do half-hour trecks to bring in money for the foundation. Nope sorry, that doesn’t measure up to my principles says the know-it-all Western blogger/eco-tourism expert.
Some numbers: There used to be 100,000 elephants in Thailand back in the early 1900’s, now there are about 3,000. I’m not sure of the latest numbers at Elephant Nature Park. Maybe 50 elephants? So who’s taking care of the other elephants?
I went to that commenters site. “My experience with all of the people at Elephant Nature Park who have so much love and care so much for these animals has permanently opened my eyes and changed my life forever. I can’t turn my back on them. I will no longer be responsible for the pain and constant suffering of another living being, and it feels wonderful and freeing. That is why I am Vegan”. Oh, _______. People like that are why a lot of ordinary people get turned off by these save the animal movements. It’s always the radicals who take over.
Screw them. Kudos to you for at least trying to help out someone else.
And I’ll say one other thing about elephant foundations/sanctuaries as it relates to bloggers; it helps your credibility if you actually pay your way and not get a ‘blogger freebie’. Put your money where your mouth is.
Thanks for the comment Jack, always love your feedback.
I’m in full agreement. Everything always so black and white. And they brush off the economics of it by saying that “do it and the money will come”. Well, I see Erawan Elephant Retirement Park (which was owned by Elephant Nature Park) just closed it’s doors. Don’t know what happened there. Maybe they over-extended themselves and came to the realization that not all elephant sanctuaries are created equal?
Yes, we went back in 2008. ENP was already well known back then and had been featured in National Geographic and Animal Planet. But everyone goes there now…
Thanks for the comment!
I love elephants! Wonderful post and fabulous pictures! The work they do there is fantastic.. bless them all. It doesn’t sound like there is one bit of cruelty going on, and that warms my heart. Song Kran sounds very happy to be “playing a harmonica, putting a basketball through a basket, kicking a soccer ball, and breaking out into a funky dance”! She’s happy and staying active and fit!
Here in the Greater Vancouver area we have a very sad elephant story regarding Tina the elephant. I used to drive past the Greater Vancouver Zoo and see poor Tina standing in the exact same place each time. I felt so sorry for her. There were often stories in the local papers about her, and about the zoo owners, and the state of the privately owned zoo. The zoo seemed to be getting more and more run down as each year passed.
I took my niece & nephew to the zoo a few times, and hubby & I went a few times. I used to talk to Tina & tell her how bad I felt that she had nowhere to roam & was stuck, chained, in this dirt. I couldn’t believe this was happening in Canada, a very progressive nation. I was outraged that nobody seemed to care or be doing anything about it.
Tina had been born in captivity in Oregon. Finally, at 33 years of age, after much todo from the public (FINALLY) arrangments were made to transfer Tina to an elephant sanctuary, with many, many acres, in Tennessee. Thank God! You can read about it here. http://www.pejnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=557&catid=74:ijustice-news&Itemid=216
Her journey was on our local news every evening, and was very interesting.
The sad part is that Tina only lived for one more year. The folks at the sanctuary did an awesome job bringing her back to health, and Tina had a best friend named Sissy who showed her the ropes. We got regular updates on her. One of her caregivers wrote a daily blog on Tina’s progress and there are a few excerpts from it on the above link. It thrills me that Tina had the best year of her life before she passed away.
Thanks again for posting this great, fascinating article about the Hutsadin Elephant Foundation. And for the great pictures.
PS The reviews for the Greater Vancouver Zoo are HORRIBLE. Many animals have suddenly died in the years since Tina left. It’s pathetic. Would be nice if they would close it down.
Thanks so much for the story Carol. How sad. They’re such social animals and, from what I understand from the article, she was all alone while in Vancouver. And, like you say, it sounds like she didn’t get great care there; they say all her problems arose from a long-term infection that was never treated. I don’t know how this can happen in Canada.Very sad.
Just shows that elephants take a lot of care.They definitely seemed happy at Hutsadin.
Yeah very interesting.. Looks a good place to visit!! Will have to go next time I go to Thailand!