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PeerJ. 2018 Nov 23;6:e5996. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5996. eCollection 2018.

Changing trends in elephant camp management in northern Thailand and implications for welfare.

Author information

1
Center of Excellence in Elephant and Wildlife Research, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
2
Center for Species Survival, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Front Royal, VA, USA.
3
Department of Companion Animal and Wildlife Clinic, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
4
Department of Food Animal Clinic, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
5
Excellent Center of Veterinary Public Health, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
6
Center of Excellence in Veterinary Biosciences, Department of Veterinary Biosciences and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
#
Contributed equally

Abstract

Background:

Elephant camps are among the most attractive destinations in Thailand for tourists from many countries. A wide range of management strategies are used by these camps, which can have varied impacts on health and welfare of elephants.

Methods:

This study surveyed 33 camps with 627 elephants in northern Thailand to quantify the types of management practices and work activities experienced by captive elephants. The survey consisted of an interview with camp owners, and direct observations of camp operations.

Results:

Data revealed considerable variation in elephant demographics, work activities, elephant care (i.e., housing, restraint, nutrition, health care, and breeding), and mahout management among the camps. In general, older camps (those in existence for >16 years) were involved in more intensive activities, like riding with saddles and shows. By contrast, newer camps provided more one-on-one activities for tourists and elephants, and emphasized more intimate, relaxing experiences (e.g., feeding, bathing, walking) than entertainment. A demographic shift also was observed, with elephants 20 years of age and younger having a sex ratio closer to 1:1 compared to elephants in older age categories (1:4.1-1:9.8).

Discussion:

Shifts in elephant management to less intensive activities were observed, which could have positive implications for elephant welfare. The shifting sex ratio suggests successful captive breeding is resulting in the birth of more males, which could present new welfare challenges in the future, because bulls can be more difficult to manage and socialize, and are more likely to be kept isolated during musth. Ultimately, the goal is to understand how camp activities affect welfare, and to develop science-based guidelines and standards to aid in the management of both male and female elephants used in tourism.

KEYWORDS:

Asian elephant; Elephant camp; Management; Thailand; Tourism; Welfare

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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