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Tourists bathing an elephant
Kantha Elephant bathing

The Asian Elephants

The Asian elephant has played a very important role in the history and culture of Thailand. People here have captured wild animals for centuries and “tamed” them. They were used in warfare, an means of transportation and to haul logs in the logging industry. In 1850 there were about 100,000 domesticated elephants in Thailand, a number that has gone down since then. According to experts Thailand’s current population is about 2,700. About 95% of these are in private ownership, with the Thai Elephant Conservation Center‘s 80 elephants being Thailand’s only government-owned animals apart from a few in zoos and the King’s ten revered ‘white’ elephants in the Royal Elephant Stable.

Wild elephants in Thailand are very difficult to count given their dense, forested habitat, but most experts would agree there are between 2,000-3,000. Thailand issued a logging ban in 1989. Since then many elephants have found employment in the tourist industry. With the spectacular growth of tourism the amount of venues offering elephant entertainment for tourist has grown as well. This entertainment consisted of shows in which animals showed their skills in hauling and pulling logs. Later on elements such as throwing darts, circus acts and elephant painting were added to these shows. Besides the show these venues offer short elephant rides. Elephant shows and riding have become less popular in the last decade. We avoid these venues as much as possible.