There have been many unforeseen benefits to the establishment of elephant nature parks in Chiang Mai. Tracts of land near this northern city in Thailand were one of the first places in Thailand to create elephant nature parks. What started as a humanitarian response to the plight of old and sick elephants who had once toiled in the logging and tourism industry, has blossomed into a must-visit destination for tourists from all over the world.
There are now elephant sanctuaries and nature parks all over Thailand. Still, the elephant nature parks in Chiang Mai were one of the first to lead the change in human attitude to one of mercy and providing for the welfare of these gentle giants.
Conservationists had decried the treatment of Thailand’s elephants in the logging industry for years. But with the banning of the logging industry, many of Thailand’s domesticated elephants were forced into the tourism industry to make ends meet for their owners and mahouts.
The elephants were forced to perform unnatural tricks or carry tourists on their back all day in the hot sun. As the world became more conservation-minded, this treatment was seen to be no better than toiling in the logging industry.
Some forward-thinking animal conservationists got the idea to establish elephant ‘retirement homes’ for elephants who were too old, weak or sick to perform in the tourism industry. As word of these parks spread, no doubt helped by the internet and social media, the parks began to thrive.
But few people realized that these parks would offer the number of benefits that they have.
Sanctuaries for Elephants
Foremost among the benefits is the care the elephants began to enjoy at the elephant nature parks in Chiang Mai. With proper medical care and an abundance of healthy food. The elephants finally found some peace and happiness in their lives. These intelligent, highly social animals thrived in their new surroundings.
The parks discovered that being able to visit and interact with elephants was as much as a draw for tourists as riding them and watching them perform tricks. An industry began to emerge of elephant conservation that was self-supporting by the entrance fees charged to conservation-minded tourists.
Raising Public Awareness
The success of the elephant nature parks in Chiang Mai also helped raise the public’s awareness of the need to conserve the well-being of the elephants as well as all wild animals forced into the tourism industry.
This awareness spread around the world to include animals whose lives were threatened by poachers. Tigers, orang-utans, African elephants and rhinos reaped the benefit of this change in human attitude.
The need to protect the natural habitats of wild animals also became a benefit. With more forests and jungles set aside as protected habitats, the health of the planet improved along with the air.
People, and more importantly, governments began to see natural environments as a tourist attraction and sought ways to conserve and protect these areas.
The elephant nature parks of Chiang Mai didn’t start the conservation movement. But they gave it a face by featuring the plight of the elephants as the poster child for conservation.