An elephant painting a picture in Chiang Mai, Thailand

An elephant painting a picture near Chiang Mai, Thailand

I have spoken briefly before about the whole elephant tourism thing in Thailand, but I could never really find the words to describe how I felt about it. Instead, I posted a black and white photo essay to try and portray the elephant camp experience. Is it right that elephants are being used for rides and shows for tourists? If elephant tourism didn’t exist, would the elephants therefore have no use and instead be critically endangered? I honestly have mixed feelings about the whole thing. The only thing I’m sure of is that I really didn’t enjoy my experience at the elephant camp that I visited near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Elephants are beautiful creatures and they simply fascinate me. It felt demeaning to be riding on their backs and watching them perform tricks for me.

I took this photo near the end of the elephant show that I watched, as this very talented elephant named Suda finished painting her picture. I’m not sure how they trained her to do this, and I’m not sure I want to, but this does show how intelligent elephants are. Suda has to do this a couple of times a day and her paintings are up for sale after the show.

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40 comments… add one
  • Anne Jan 22, 2013

    Hey Dean, absolutely agree, which is why I went to the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai instead. No working, no riding, no tricks. Just time in the presence of these magnificent animals is what you get. Just enough tourism to support the ongoing efforts to support the herds, virutally all of whom were maltreated by former owners. I made a short video of the pictures I took at the Elephant Nature Park. You might be interested to see it at

    • Dean Wickham Jan 31, 2013

      Hi Anne. I think I will have to check out this place next time I’m in Chiang Mai. It sounds much better.

  • I don’t agree of using the animal for a show whether it is for tourism or for educational purposes. It is just not right. Elephants should be on their natural habitat and not at the zoo or at the nature park.

    • Dean Wickham Jan 31, 2013

      You’re right Kristy. They should be in their natural habitat along with most other animals. Unfortunately it’s just not that simple with humans hunting them and destroying their natural habitats.

  • Vinnie Jan 24, 2013

    I think animals are used or rather misused for ages. Horses and camels suffer the most, when they are forced to race and are violently hit by the jockeys.

    • Dean Wickham Jan 31, 2013

      Hi Vinnie. Yes unfortunately there is a lot of animal cruelty in the world

  • Nicole Gorgoglione Jan 7, 2016

    amazing photos.. thanks dean for sharing.. These elephants are super smart and beautiful.. I just hope they are treated well.. I will say prayers for them as well as use my voice to say how amazing it is to see a elephant draw there own name and pics.. what a sight to see for yourself.truly .. My boss just told me about these, I didnt believe til I saw your pics for myself.. thanks again

    • Dean Wickham Feb 26, 2016

      Glad you liked the photo Nicole. Unfortunately many of these elephants aren’t treated very well. I wasn’t happy with my trip to this Elephant camp. A better place to go would be Elephant Nature Park that rescues elephants – no shows or rides etc.

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