Tourists visiting the Maesa Elephant Camp in Chang Mai, Thailand have the opportunity to see the “largest assembly of elephants in the north of Thailand.” The brilliant elephants paint, dance, participate in parades, and even play soccer.
The camp was founded in 1976 by Choochart Kalmapijit who was inspired by the deep intelligence he observed in elephants.
The official Masesa Elephant Camp website states that the “wellbeing and nourishment of our elephants are of prime importance and the total of six tons of grass, bananas and sugarcane that go to feed our elephants daily are self grown. We also grow special grasses and herbs which all combine to assure the health and well being of all our elephants.”
In 2008, Mesea was the first elephant camp to receive ISO 9001 certification—which sets international standards for the “best” quality management practices. Mesea is now home to more than 80 elephants.
One of the more controversial ways tourists can engage with baby elephants at Mesea, and other locations in Thailand, is to lay down on the ground and receive a “massage.” The 200+ lb. baby elephants have been trained to use their trunks to thoughtfully massage the tourist’s back. The massage concludes with some deep tissue work as the gentle giants take their feet and tap/press on the tourists back.
Delighted tourists regularly post videos of this activity on YouTube to share with family and friends (as seen in the videos below). While the baby elephants are adorable and the idea of this kind of massage novel, concerns regarding this practice has been discussed at length by the UK’s Mirror, ABC News, and OneGreenPlanet.org. What do you think, is this too cute or hopelessly cruel?