With the popularity of ecotourism now stronger than ever, we explore some of Thailand’s finest animal conservation programes to discover how visitors can enjoy holidays that are inspiring and ethical.
Green turtles can be found in the Andaman Sea, but they are becoming more endangered
Home to an array of rich natural ecosystems on land and at sea, Thailand’s natural attractions offer an array of treasures for visitors to enjoy. Due to the fact that the Kingdom welcomes millions of visitors each year, sustaining the natural environment has become increasingly challenging. As a result, the country’s growing eco-tourism sector has made it a priority to preserve Thailand’s natural gems, particularly in the last decade. That way, they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
As international travellers grow increasingly eco-conscious, green tourism in Thailand has becoming increasingly accessible. In addition to the plethora of protected national parks around the country, including those on islands like Phuket and Koh Samui, the Kingdom is also home to an array of animal-focused conservation programmes. These range from turtle release schemes to gibbon rehabilitation projects.
We take a closer look at some of the animal protection initiatives in Thailand and explore how you can be a friend to the animals during your stay.
Thailand’s most cherished animal
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary effectively provides a safe retirement home
For many tourists, riding an elephant has long been synonymous with a visit to Thailand, but recent animal research shows that this seemingly innocent activity can in fact be harmful to these magnificent animals. While elephant rides are still available in Thailand, a growing number of visitors are switching to more ethical means of interacting with the country’s famous pachyderms.
Established in 2016, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is one of a new breed of ethical elephant attractions popping up across Thailand. The sanctuary provides a safe haven for elephants that have been rescued from exploitative owners, and the creatures are able to roam free throughout a protected park. Money raised by the centre also provides food, care and medicine for the elephants. There are daily tours for visitors, who can watch elephants enjoying life in their natural environment. There’s also the chance to walk with elephants and feed them, too.
Children of the jungle
Phuket’s Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre provides a sanctuary for animals that have been mistreated
Despite efforts to preserve Thailand’s wealth of natural ecosystems, the fact is that many of the Kingdom’s most fascinating species are already on the decline. Over the past three decades, more than half of Thailand’s wild gibbon population has been wiped out. Establishments like the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre in Phuket are doing their bit to stall the damage.
Set within tropical rainforest close to Phuket’s Bang Pae waterfall, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre rescues animals that have been abandoned or mistreated and provides them a safe haven for rehabilitation, with the aim of eventually releasing them back into the wild. This conservation effort is largely staffed by volunteers, and relies on the donations of visitors. Tours of the centre are free, and visitors can hang out with these marvellous creatures and make a donation to ensure the wonderful work of the centre continues.
Endangered marine species
Hawksbill turtles are becoming increasingly rare but can still be found in the Andaman Sea
In addition to the numerous conservation schemes targeting Thailand’s land animals, a number of projects aim to protect the Kingdom’s fascinating sea creatures, too. Founded in 1985, the Turtle Beach Heaven & Sanctuary is a great place for visitors to learn more about turtles and other marine creatures. The centre’s main objective is to protect a broad array of marine life, and they carry out a lot of research to help develop the coastal aquaculture in this part of Thailand. They also breed an array of rare and endangered animals to help preserve species.
While the centre works to protect various sea creatures, it’s best known for its work with turtles. Green turtles, Ridley Sea turtles, Leatherback turtles and Hawksbill turtles can all be found at the centre. Each year, more than 500 green turtles are released into the wild during the Khao Lak Turtle Festival at the beginning of March. Situated just north of the beautiful Natai Beach, the festival is a must-visit event for wildlife enthusiasts visiting thios part of Thailand.
Eco Koh Tao helps to educate divers on how to minimise their impact on the marine environment
On the other side of the Thai mainland in the Gulf of Siam, there are plenty of marine conservation schemes designed to help preserve the wonderful ecosystems that lie just beneath the waves. Eco Koh Tao is just one of those programmes, an initiative set up by Crystal Dive, when the staff noticed a growing need to ramp up conservation efforts in the seas surrounding the small island of Koh Tao.
Since it was formed, Eco Koh Tao has helped spread awareness of the impact diving can have on the fragile underwater environment. In addition to constructing its own artificial coral reef that scores of marine creatures now call home, the programme has also helped to educate divers on how to enjoy the seas responsibly, without damaging their surroundings. Eco Koh Tao has also done a lot of coral transplant work in and around Koh Tao to ensure that the reefs can support a diverse range of creatures for years to come.
Khao Sok national park in southern Thailand is one of the oldest evergreen rainforests in the world
For ecotourism enthusiasts, perhaps one of the best way to experience Thailand’s splendid natural treasures is by exploring one of its national parks. With more than 100 protected areas, visitors are really spoilt for choice when it comes to picking where to go. Phuket is the ideal base for those that want to spend several days exploring the delights of Khao Sok National Park. This expansive nature reserve spans 738 sq.km, and is home to an array of intriguing wildlife, including Asian black bears and leopards. If you’re staying in Koh Samui, you’re situated just 30km west of the stunning Ang Thong National Marine Park where uninhabited islands, coves and tropical lagoons provide a rich habitat for dolphins, sea otters and an array of rare sea birds.
- Do your research before visiting centres that market themselves as animal sanctuaries to avoid being duped by phoney organisations that actually cause more suffering than good.
- If you see animals such as gibbons being used as photo props in the streets of tourist towns do not support the practice by taking pictures.
- Avoid restaurants or entertainment venues where animals are kept in cages.