All about Elephants in Thailand

There are currently about three thousand Asian Elephants in Thailand (down from 100,000 elephants at the turn of the last century) with a total world population estimated at around 40,000 – 47,000 individuals. Research puts this number as declining at around 3 % per year.

Elephants are extremely important to Thailand and its society. They are greatly respected and at one point featured on the National Flag of Siam. The domestic population of Thailand’s Elephants currently numbers at around 2,000. These animals have traditionally been used in the logging industry and the Thai population has worked with Elephants for centuries, even using them to plough rice fields instead of buffalos.

So why do we have this number of Elephants in captivity in Thailand? Well, for centuries Elephants have been used to haul timber in its lucrative logging industry. In 1989, according to an enormous deforestation from 53% of the Thai land mass covered in forests in 1961 down to a mere 25% in the 90es, and due to public pressure, Thailand introduced a law to ban logging.This was fantastic, as it meant that domestic Elephants were not used any longer to cut down their own habitat. Many new national parks were established and the beginning of forest conservation in Thailand truly began.

Unfortunately the damage was already done, from being a country covered almost 80% in forest only about 15% remained – clearly not enough for the whole population of Elephants to survive.

The next dilemma arose, as now elephant owners suddenly had unemployed pachyderms to feed. As elephants easily consume about 200kg of food per day, taking care of these gentle giants is not an easy task – and certainly not a cheap one either. Dark times of illegal logging, begging or malnourishment awaited many of Asia’s largest land animals…

Today, tourism offers a sustainable life for domestic elephants in Thailand. If run well and the animals are cared for properly it offers a sustainable income for both Elephant and Mahout (the elephant caretaker). We at Elephant Hills believe that this type of tourism will bring this amazing species into the next century.