Animals & Responsible Tourism Koh Samui Thailand

Animals in Tourism – know before you go

March 23, 2015

I’m taking a step out of the ordinary here to write about something that was very important to me whilst we were on holiday in Thailand: the use of animals in tourism.

Excited about visiting Thailand I read lots of blogs and spoke to lots of friends and many of them recommended elephant trekking and tiger temple amongst the highlights of their trips.

On arriving at our hotel in Koh Samui there was a stand at reception filled with leaflets advertising the various activities available to take part in on the island, with many of them including animal rides, shows, parks etc.

A number of the leaflets also labelled the tours as ‘eco’ tours. Mo and I debated whether maybe with animal welfare becoming more important things may have changed, however after a quick read through and look at the pictures, they showed no signs of being any different to the others.


Conservation being a passion of mine I had glanced at articles about tiger temple before we left and they hadn’t been good and I took the opportunity at the time to dig deeper.

Sadly everything I came up with was not good news, which to be honest is what I expected. After working on a conservation project in Zimbabwe and knowing the difficulties in keeping big cats in such close quarters, I was always skeptical about the living conditions of these animals. Sites such as Care for the Wild combined with my own gut feeling steered us clear of engaging in this activity, even though tigers are top of my list of wild animals to encounter.  As I chose not to visit, I can’t provide first hand comments on how the temple is run, but it would take a heck of a lot to convince me that this is in fact a safe place for wild tigers to be living in and that their welfare is truly being considered.

So that was Tiger Temple out of the window. Based on what I knew about the treatment of the tigers, I was pretty sure the elephant activities would be just as bad. So we decided early on to avoid them too.

However… one of the elephant eco tours advertised on the leaflets was near the Nah-Muang waterfall we were planning to visit and I have to be honest I was actually a wee bit excited by this. I love elephants and they are also Mo’s all-time favourite animal so I was secretly hoping it was one of those good ones and we would see a herd of happy healthy elephants grazing amongst the tall trees enjoying their carefree life in the wilderness.

When our taxi dropped us off by the entrance to the waterfall site sure enough the elephants were right there. But not wandering blissfully as I had hoped… instead chained up, barely able to move more than a metre or so, ready to get to work carting tourists through the jungle when needed. It was without a doubt the saddest sight I had ever seen and we couldn’t bring ourselves to even look at them as we scurried off to see the waterfall, knowing if we had stuck around any longer tears would have well and truly fallen. We knew we had made the right decision by not paying money and encouraging this activity.

I understand people go on holiday and want to experience new and exciting things, take part in activities they’ve dreamed of or their friends have done. There’s also the time old reason that ‘I know it’s not fair on the animals, but it won’t make a difference if we don’t go.’I also tend to get counter arguments on the grounds that these attractions keep people in jobs, feed families and help the economy. Again I appreciate all of this but at the same time it’s amazing how resourceful people can be and you wouldn’t fund child labour if it meant keeping people in a job? Why should it be any different for animals?

In business, demand fuels supply. In simple terms we reduce the demand for these services and we should start to see an end to them. This can only happen when tourists, like us, make smarter decisions. It’s the difference between taking that big-money-shot-cuddling-a-tiger and taking the moral high ground by steering clear and discouraging these activities, which in essence are designed with us visitors in mind.

I’d just like to stress this isn’t me getting all high and mighty about what you should and shouldn’t do. I may have said no on this trip but I too have fallen for these ‘conservation’ traps in other countries in the past and it’s only through education that I have learned to always look carefully at what animal projects to support or not. Sometimes it is hard to filter out the good from the bad but I believe it’s our responsibility to know before you go.

Thailand for example, although its a place where the majority of tours and excursions are not in the best interests of animals, there are a number of sanctuaries out there trying to help. Sanctuaries such as the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai work to give them the life they deserve and still allow you to get up close and personal. Surely that’s better all round right?


For anyone wanting to read more on the issues of animal tourism, here are a few useful sites:

> EarsAsia

– This site has a whole section on the dark side of tourism that is worth a read of you want to learn more, however please be warned it has some serious graphic content of animal cruelty

> Care For the Wild 
> Elephant Nature Park 
Fellow bloggers who also say no –

The Nomad Notes – Why I Won’t Ride Elephants in Thailand

If there are any charities/organisations I’ve missed out please add them to the comments, I’m always yearning to learn more.

(I remember coming across an amazing blog about how elephants are exploited for tourism but I can’t for the life of me find it again no matter how much I search– so if anyone knows who this lovely lady blogger is pleeeease let me know!)

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