Elephant Nature Park review: The harsh truth

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An elephant at the Elephant Nature Park

Honestly, I wish I had come across a more candid Elephant Nature Park review before my visit, one that doesn’t sugar coat the experience. Whilst Elephant Nature Park is certainly a vast improvement over the highly unethical elephant riding camps in Thailand, it fell short of my expectations.

In this Elephant Nature Park review, I’ll provide an honest account of my visit as a vegan (on their Single Day Visit), covering topics ranging from the animals and the lunchtime buffet to the staff and the park itself.

Elephant Nature Park review summary

It may be one of the most ethical elephant parks in the area, but I think there are still vast improvements that can be made. There is no riding, but the elephants are still used for human amusement and other animals on the park aren’t treated with the same level of kindness. But as with any business that profits off tourism I can’t see this changing anytime soon.

Brand: Elephant Nature Park

My rating: 2/5

What is Elephant Nature Park?

Elephant Nature Park is an animal sanctuary providing a home for many rescued animals, including elephants, cows, buffalo, cats, dogs, pigs, goats and more. The park is open to visitors who are able to visit the free roaming elephants in the tourist side of the reserve.

Many of the elephants have been bought off of other local parks where they use elephants for entertainment, like elephant riding and circus acts, or for logging.

Who owns Elephant Nature Park?

Elephant Nature Park was founded by an animal activist called Saengduean Lek Chailert. She built the park after dedicating her life to saving elephants in her local area.

How ethical is Elephant Nature Park Thailand?

Two elephants at Elephant Nature Park

In comparison to the other elephant parks in Thailand, I’d say it is the most ethical. It is even shared on The Guardian’s website in a list of the more ethical sanctuaries in Thailand. But that doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

They provide the elephants with a safe space without any threat of them being used for riding or circus acts. But considering that the sanctuary still lets guests use the elephants for their entertainment, with never-ending photo shoots (more on this below), and that there are other animals around the park not being treated so nicely, I’d have to say this isn’t an ethical park.

I would like to see them create a safe space for all the animals they have rescued and allow the elephants to truly roam free without incessant human interaction. Especially when so many of them have had such a difficult life at the hands of other human beings.

They probably wont make as much money doing it this way, but it would definitely make this is a much more ethical park.

The pros

Whilst my experience fell short of expectations in many areas, there were a few things that I did enjoy and appreciate.

Great buffet lunch

The vegan buffet lunch at Elephant Nature Park a positive from this elephant nature park review
A large selection of vegan food at the lunch buffet

Lunch was advertised as being a vegetarian buffet but I do believe everything we were served that day was vegan. I heard a lot of people grumbling and moaning about it not containing any meat. But in the end, I saw a lot of people enjoying the food.

There was a wide variety of dishes and plenty of it to go around. They had everything from fried spring rolls to curries and noodle dishes. I ended up probably eating a bit too much of it but I needed the fuel after all the walking.

They also have a little cafe on site which serves coffee with a variety of different plant-based milks.

No riding

The reason why this elephant park is looked at so kindly is because they were one of the first to provide a safe space for elephants. This means no riding of elephants and no circus-style acts.

Obviously, this is a great thing for the elephants and it is the very reason I booked my ticket in the first place. I wanted to support a sanctuary that didn’t allow guests to ride on the elephants. Thankfully, you can see that absolutely no riding is happening around the park.

The cons

Now, let’s get on to the not so great parts!

Not a sanctuary for all animals

A cow at the nature park
A curious cow that soon got hit in the face with a rock

Elephant Nature Park isn’t just an elephant park. They also take in dogs, cats, cows, pigs, and more. Many of whom have been saved from slaughter houses. I personally was really excited to see how they were providing a sanctuary for these animals, but was upset when I saw how some of them were being treated.

For example, I saw the staff smash rocks into the heads of cows and buffalos because they got too close to guests. Seeing this behaviour from the staff looking after the elephants was very upsetting. There should be other processes in place if they want to keep certain animals away from guests. No violence towards any animals in a sanctuary should just be a given.

To quote Elephant Nature Park themselves: “At Elephant Nature Park, we believe in promoting a harmonious relationship between humans and animals, and our work is founded on the principles of compassion and empathy.” – You can see how I expected something different from my time at their sanctuary.

I was also a bit gutted that there was no real information or transparency on the rescued animals that were off limits, like the pigs. This could be improved really easily with some visual information boards or videos.

I could also see a whole load more elephants across the river who weren’t roaming free, but were tucked away in small pens. I did ask whether these elephants were allowed to roam free like the rest but my guide quickly dodged the subject. Forever the sceptic, I got the impression that we were only getting access to the pretty tourist side of things.

All for the gram

The tour around the elephant park was geared towards photo taking. You would move from elephant to elephant and wait around for 10 minutes whilst everyone in your group took a photo in front of that elephant. Obviously, all for the gram.

I’d have guessed there were over 10 different tour groups each consisting of around 10 people. Which means each elephant has to put up with a lot of photo taking throughout the day. Then consider that these tours happen every single day. That’s a lot!

Whether these elephants mind or not felt beside the point. You just feel like they deserve to be left alone. Especially after all they’ve been through.

Throughout the tour, I stood nearby and tried to watch these magnificent animals do normal natural things, but this was difficult when they were being surrounded by people taking selfies and photographs. One of my fellow guests even shouted directly in an elephants face when it tried to sniff her.

I know this isn’t the parks fault, but the tour guide was the one leading the tour this way.

What the park could do is teach all the guests how to behave with the elephants. How to treat them with kindness and respect. This would make a huge difference in my opinion. And I would have loved more time to just be around the elephants and other animals, to see them being their natural selves, without them being crowded around for photographs.

The cats at Elephant Nature Park
The cats being fed

Uncompassionate guides

Call me naïve, but when I researched the founder and read numerous Elephant Nature Park reviews online, I had got it in my head that all the tour guides would be likeminded. The founder is an animal rights activist and the lunch provided is veggie/vegan. So yeah, I had my hopes up.

But unfortunately, I found most of the staff to be on a different page to the founder. I understand that they aren’t in it for the same reasons as her, it is a job to them, but I had hoped they would be able to talk with more enthusiasm about the animals in their care. And obviously treat them with care too.

I didn’t see elephants and other animals being left to do their natural thing in this nature park, instead the staff would barge into them and even hit them (as mentioned above).

Moreover, when I expressed an interest in going to see the rescue pigs, the tour guide told me this was off limits. Which is fine, but it was very upsetting when he shortly went on to chat with one of the other guests in my group about all the delicious pork dishes he likes to eat. This wasn’t the kind of communication I was expecting from a tour guide of a sanctuary that saves animals from slaughterhouses.

My verdict

Whilst I wouldn’t choose to go back to the Elephant Nature Park, unless they worked on their staff behaviour and the style of the tour itself, I can see why others would. It is a lot more ethical than any other parks in the area.

Some of the elephants and Elephant Nature Park
Elephants heading to the water

In my eyes, the most ethical course of action would be a gradual closure of all elephant riding camps, while the comparatively less unethical parks like Elephant Nature Park take care of the remaining rescue elephants.

But I am a realist, and I know this wouldn’t be great for business. Especially since it is one of the main reasons so many tourists visit Chiang Mai. Hence, it’s likely that some form of elephant parks will always exist.

I just hope that this actual honest review helps to spread some awareness of the unethical practices that are still prevalent in this nature park. Which if I’d have known about, would have stopped me from visiting in the first place.

Hopefully, they will address the core issues, including the treatment of all animals, the use of elephants for entertainment (photo opportunities) and the behaviour of their staff. After which, I believe they could rightly call themselves an animal sanctuary. And one that I would re-visit.

Where is it located?

Elephant Nature Park’s main office is located in Chiang Mai but the nature park itself is located a few hours away from Chiang Mai.

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