Observations about (the stupidity of) elephant tourism.

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The Mae Wang district is rapidly becoming the centre of the dreadful “elephant tourism” in Chiang Mai, with many new camps springing up by the river and in the forest in the last couple of years . Tourist buses and pick up trucks bringing food for the elephants now make up most of the traffic on the main road. Only a few of the long established camps have the space to grow their own elephant food, all the new camps have to bring food in, with teams of cutters criss-crossing the province harvesting and transporting bana grass or corn.

Elephants can put it away, it’s no joke, they spend virtually the whole day eating, one adult will consume up to 400kg of food a day, meaning a full pick up truck feeds on average three elephants for one day. Assuming there are two hundred elephants in the Mae Win area, a very conservative estimate by the way, this means around 60/70 food truck trips every single day, during the dry season food can be difficult to find and trucks have to travel increasingly long distances to procure increasingly low quality food for the pachyderms.


“The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone.  

Bill Mollison

While at first glance the 10% figure could look low and achievable, when one starts thinking about it and looks around it’s clear that most people just consume and are not really aware of the consequences of their choices, it is especially troubling to see how many young people seem to go for this type of mainstream mindless tourism. The whole experience is completely fake and valueless, I will say nothing of the people on top of the elephants with their GoPros and selfie sticks. Of course our man Guy Debord had seen this coming from afar.

Tourism — human circulation packaged for consumption, a by-product of the circulation of commodities — is the opportunity to go and see what has become banal. The economic organization of travel to different places already guarantees their equivalence. The modernization that has eliminated the time involved in travel has simultaneously eliminated any real space from it.

Guy Debord  Society of the Spectacle 1967


On top of the obvious exploitation of the working elephants who are still wild animals and not domesticated, in Thailand there is the additional exploitation of the mahouts, the elephant handlers, who perform a very dangerous job without adequate recompense or recognition. I urge you to spend a few minutes reading this very well researched article from the Atlantic, telling the story of the recent death of a mahout in Mae Wang.

While I am not particularly interested in foisting my opinions on anyone, I wanted to share this as another example of the many stupid and unthinking ways we have found to ruin the planet and the lives of the more vulnerable in our midst.


Author: marco

growing food and making do with less

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