Impacts of elephant tourism in Thailand

Authored by: Eric Laws , Noel Scott , John Koldowski

The Routledge Handbook of Tourism Impacts

Print publication date:  May  2019
Online publication date:  April  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138494961
eBook ISBN: 9781351025102
Adobe ISBN:


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Elephants in Thailand provide an example of the complex issues surrounding how tourism impacts wildlife. Elephants are on the Red List of endangered species (, and the Thai population has fallen from about 100,000 at the end of the nineteenth century to about 4,000 elephants currently. Historically, the extensive Thai forestry industry was dependent on elephants and the mahouts who owned, trained and looked after them. However, the Thai government’s ban on logging after disastrous flooding and mudslides in 1989 left these mahouts without income. As a result, they took their elephants to beg on city streets and to entertain tourists. City authorities found this to be disruptive and sometimes dangerous, and begging was soon banned. Alternatively, elephants were displayed in tourist venues. Elephants in these tourism venues are mainly owned by businessmen who employ young men with little previous experience as mahouts. This has resulted in abuses and misuses of the elephants in part due to lack of appropriate regulations for elephant welfare. The mahouts may seek to dominate the elephants, using unnecessarily violent and restrictive control methods and have little understanding of their welfare needs. In response, a number of NGOs and travel trade channel members have taken a leading role in advising camps about best management practices, informing tourists about elephant welfare problems, and influencing them to boycott the worst camps. This chapter presents a concise history of the development of elephant tourism in Thailand and identifies current issues in their display and interaction with visitors.

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