Royal Silk Holidays’ Local Elephant Camp Standards help us evaluate the ethical practices of elephant establishments which we engage. The standards basically ensure the welfare of the domestic elephants’ both physically and psychologically. This can include providing the elephants with proper nutrition, medical care, and a suitable environment for them to live in, not using cruel training methods, not overworking, or isolating them and allowing them to engage in social activities.
We also look at the employees’ welfare especially the Mahout, who is directly in charge of each elephant. Elephant camps are encouraged to place a strong emphasis on educating and training the Mahouts in proper care and handling techniques, as well as promoting sustainable livelihoods for them. This can include providing fair wages and benefits, training programs, and assistance in finding alternative livelihoods if the Mahout wishes to move on from elephant care.
We choose the elephant camps by evaluating various criteria to assess the overall ethical and environmental practices of each camp. Below is a brief example of our guidelines and directions which we used to select an elephant camp.
Following the Five Domains of Animal Welfare
Nutrition – availability and quality of feed and water
- Elephants should always have access to food.
- Elephants are provided with a well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional requirements. The diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, and supplements.
- Elephant main diet is grass. It should be fed excessively with fruits such as banana and sugarcane as it will cause obesity.
Environment – atmospheric and environmental condition
- Ensure that our elephants are protected from extreme temperatures and weather conditions and that they have shelters when necessary.
- Elephants should have access to a spacious environment similar to their natural habitat, where they can socialize and move around.
- The enclosures should be kept clean to maintain hygiene and comfort
Health – presence or absence of disease and injury
- Elephants receive regular medical check-ups to ensure that they are in good health. They should be monitored closely for any signs of illness or injury.
- Elephant should exercise regularly to avoid obesity. For example, going for a walk regularly.
Behavior – restriction or expression of behavior
- Give the elephants the chance to engage socially. They should be able to act naturally as they please.
- Use positive reinforcement techniques to direct the elephants. The training should be done in a stress-free environment, and the elephants should not be subjected to physical punishment.
- Elephant should not be forced to do tricks out of their natural posture, such as standing.
Mental state – subjective feelings and experiences.
- To reside in an environment without stress where elephants can feel secure, at ease, and content.
Bullhook is considered a symbol of mahout, and it is also an essential tool in elephant handling. The hook is no more harmful than a rein in a horse’s mouth and was created as a guiding aid and safety precaution for the mahout. An elephant has a chance to panic, from loud sounds and sudden movement, and the mahout may not be able to direct the elephant without a bullhook, endangering the elephant, tourist and the mahout.
Mahout should be trained to use the bullhook efficiently, and appropriately. A good handling of bullhook will not hurt the elephants. The hook should never be used to subdue an elephant; it should always be used in conjunction with spoken instructions.
Elephant riding has been around since the beginning of Elephant tourism in Thailand. Our standards do have criteria regarding elephant riding, but we do not ban the activity. Elephants can easily carry 15% of its body weight and walking is a good exercise for the elephants. However, there are also criteria which the elephant camp should follow to ensure the health and wellbeing of the elephants.
- Elephant should not carry more than 10% of its body weight. (Approx. 250 KG including saddle)
- Elephant saddle should be tailor-made to fit each elephant.
- Elephant walk should not exceed 1 hour per walk. And saddle should be removed while resting.
- Walking path steepness should not exceed 30 degree.
- Walking path should be natural (non-concrete/out-of-nature). Otherwise, the path should have at least 70% of natural ground.