An elephant friendly future for the real-life Dumbos

22 April 2019

A warm thank you from ChangChill in Thailand. With the help of our generous supporters, the camp formerly known as Happy Elephant Valley is re-opening as ChangChill.

“ChangChill” (yes, as you might have guessed, meaning “relaxed elephants” in Thai) has moved away from an elephant camp that once allowed tourists to interact with elephants towards becoming a truly elephant-friendly venue.

The transition allows the six resident female elephants the freedom to just be elephants again: to roam the valley, graze, and bathe in the river, mud and dust, while socialising with each other – which is a key part of their life in the wild.

Visitors are no longer able to ride, bathe, or directly feed the elephants. They can instead admire the elephants expressing their natural behaviour, including from the new observational deck overlooking the picturesque valley. 

The recent remake of the film “Dumbo” has thrown a welcome spotlight onto the urgent issue of elephants being used for entertainment. It’s not always a happy “Hollywood ending” for elephants at real-world entertainment attractions, but we’re moving the world away from these practices.

With the help of our supporters, and some of the world’s leading travel companies, ChangChill now offers a better life for elephants and a unique experience for visitors.

ChangChill’s journey to becoming a high-welfare elephant venue is setting a positive example for other entertainment attractions to make the same transition and emulate its model.

As well as helping elephant camps make the transition from low welfare to high welfare venues, we’re continuing to raise awareness around elephant suffering. Below are a few handy tips to help travellers identify the difference between good and bad elephant venues. 

Elephant dust bathes after a river swim in Thailand

Elephants playing at a high welfare elephant venue in Asia

Be elephant aware and show you care

Helping travellers identify truly elephant-friendly venues

1. What’s in a name?

Don’t be fooled by the name. A venue may call itself a sanctuary, rescue centre or retirement home for elephants, but don’t assume this means it’s offering them higher welfare. Look before you book and make sure the venue you visit really has the best interest of elephants at its heart.

2. Look but don’t touch

Elephants are wild animals that belong in the wild. If they’re allowing you close enough to ride, bathe with or touch them, it’s because they’ve been cruelly trained. Interaction with an elephant for you is the result of fear and pain for them. Be elephant aware and only visit venues where you can look but not touch.

3. Let elephants be elephants

Elephants in the wild spend their days roaming long distances, grazing and socialising with other elephants. If elephants in the venue you are thinking of visiting are not allowed to move freely and express natural behaviour, it’s not the place for you. Be elephant aware and go elsewhere.

4. This is no place for a baby

Baby elephants are tourist magnets (think: “Dumbo”), but truly elephant-friendly venues shouldn’t allow breeding, so you shouldn’t be seeing young elephants, except for orphanages where baby elephants are rescued from the wild. They may be cute, but if you can see or touch a baby elephant, especially without its mum, be elephant aware and go elsewhere.

5. Keeping elephants and people safe.

Being wild animals, captive elephants can be unpredictable and dangerous, resulting in tourists and mahouts being injured and killed each year. Even in elephant-friendly venues you’ll often see mahouts accompanying elephants, at a distance, to keep elephants and visitors safe. Elephants should always be treated with kindness and respect, and hooks never used unless in a real emergency.

6. Be part of the solution

As a tourist you have the power to make change for wild animals. Always look before you book and ensure you’re visiting a genuine venue that allows elephants to be elephants, while educating visitors on their complex needs. Share your experience, leave reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, and be part of the movement to create a better future for elephants. 

The recent remake of the film “Dumbo” has thrown a welcome spotlight onto the urgent issue of elephants being used for entertainment.
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