As part of its international TUI Elephant Aid programme, the TUI Care Foundation is working to develop consistent and solid strategies to encourage local elephant venues in Thailand to transition into elephant-friendly ones.
The ChangChill model
ChangChill, located near Chiang Mai, Thailand, started its journey towards becoming truly elephant-friendly in 2017 with the support of the TUI Care Foundation in partnership with World Animal Protection.
Now it has reopened its doors, offering a better life for elephants and a unique experience for visitors. Visitors are no longer able to ride, bathe or directly feed the elephants, which are cruel activities. Instead, they can admire the elephants expressing their natural behaviour, including from the new observation deck overlooking the venue’s valley.
The transition allows the six resident female elephants the freedom to roam the valley, graze, and bathe in the river, mud and dust, while socialising with each other.
ChangChill establishes a model that can be easily replicated by other camps in Thailand and abroad.
The Transition - Establishing a benchmark for an elephant friendly future
Only last year the TUI Care Foundation team visited a place called Happy Elephant Valley. A venue located close to Chiang Mai. Its owner and Managing Director, Mr. Supakorn Tanaseth, would guide the group through the facilities which were at that time under renovation. The venue was transitioning into an elephant friendly venue with the support of the TUI Care Foundation and its TUI Elephant Aid programme.
Mr. Tanaseth‘s family has worked with elephants for generations and before starting this journey with us they would offer elephant shows and rides to visitors. This extended practice in many venues in Thailand severely harms the well-being of elephants and forces them into a life of stress.
TUI Care Foundation and World Animal Protection decided to work on establishing a benchmark case to showcase to local venues how a transition to an elephant friendly venue was not only feasible but also financially sustainable –a key concern for local venue owners. The demand for elephant friendly venues has been growing among tourists and over 200 travel companies have already committed to stop selling and promoting elephant entertainment. Presenting the case, both organizations approached Mr. Tanaseth with a proposal to move into an elephant friendly venue that would allow for visitors to experience elephants being elephants in a natural setting, without direct interaction with tourists.
Elise Allart, Executive Director Programmes and Operations at TUI Care Foundation, explains: “TUI Care Foundation and World Animal Protection are creating a sustainable best-practice model around an elephant friendly venue. It is a model that can be replicated easily by other camps here in Thailand and also in other countries in Asia.”
When Mr. Tanaseth decided to join the initiative supported by the TUI Care Foundation, a joint plan was immediately put into practice. The project supported Mr. Tanaseth’s financially in its transition (developing new facilities like observation decks, new paths, etc.) and it also started working on raising awareness among visitors and tour operators to boost the demand for elephant friendly venues. In addition, it provided technical assistance by, for example, supporting their staff’s training in already functioning elephant friendly venues which respect high welfare standards, and the project also helped further develop a network of local suppliers to support the promotion of elephant friendly initiatives.
Two years after the transition started, the vision is now realized and we are proud to announce the opening to the public of ChangChill – previously called Happy Elephant Valley. The change in the name reflects the successful transition and a new beginning for this local venue and its elephants.
An elephant-friendly future
This is the first of hopefully many elephant camps in Thailand, and beyond, to move from elephant riding to an observation only elephant venue.
The goal is to inspire other elephant camps to replicate this model and help meet the growing demand from travellers for responsible travel experiences and to encourage travellers to affect change by supporting these elephant friendly initiatives. Together, we can all help build an elephant friendly future.