How to Determine if an Elephant Sanctuary is Ethical: A 10-Step Guide


1. How are the elephants contained?

There are only two ways you can safely contain an elephant: 1. Keep the animal in a secure steel enclosure. This is a very expensive measure that is often not possible in Asian countries. 2. The other option is more common in Asia, is to tether the elephant with a large chain that fits loosely around their ankle. Small chains should not be used since they can pinch the skin and get tangled causing harm to the elephant. Ropes should not be used because they will irritate and burn the skin.

How long is the tether?

The elephant should have at least 2 meters of tether while in their eating area. This short tether prevents elephants from hurting each other in a fight over food. At night time, there should be 20 meters of tether so the animal has enough slack to move around.

2. How often does the vet visit?

Elephants should be checked up on and treated twice a year.

3. How much walking do the animals get a day?

Elephants should walk a minimum of 17km per day. On the other side of the coin, elephants also have a need for downtime. An elephant cannot be active and work all day; they need time to themselves to decompress just like us humans.

4. Does the company claim their elephants "roam free" or make similar statements?

Be extremely wary of any camp or sanctuary that makes claims like this. You should check for bloody pock marks or scars on or near their rump - this is where they are often hit with nails.

5. Does the sanctuary buy elephants?

Contrary to what most people may think, the most ethical way to save an elephant from abuse is to rent it. When you purchase an elephant from an absuive owner you often pay upwards of 60,000 USD. That money directly benefits that unethical owner and perpuates the cycle of abuse and torture. If you care about protecting these beautiful creatures, you should not support the purchase of them.

6. Is the staff insured?

7. Are there chair rides?

8. Do the elephants have sufficient shelter?

  • Shade: Asian elephants are jungle animals and can easily get overheated and sunburnt so it's important they have shade from the hot sun. You will often see elephants throwing dirt and sand on themselves to protect themselves.
  • No cement: Elephants should never be forced to stand on cement in their area of containment. Surprisingly, this is one of the leading causes of an early death.
  • Access to water: Elephants should have the access to fresh drinking water least once every 2 hours throughout the day.

9. What is the elephant's diet comprised of?

The captive elephants should be able to pick fresh food from their immediate habitat. The rest of their food intake should be cut daily so it does not lose the nutrional value. Diversity of diet is also imperative to an elephants health - if the animals only eat sugary fruit their teeth will rot and their lifespan will be reduced.

10. Is the company transparent about where your money goes?

Unfortunately in Thailand, there are a lot of NGO's that ask for donations but fail to disclose the details surrounding where that money actuallygoes. There needs to be transparency and accountability. Look for a disclosure on their website or elsewhere that describes how your money will be used.