Maesa Elephant Camp Zoo Review

Maesa Elephant Camp, Thailand – Zoo Review

The RIGHT-tourism Zoo Review is a quick but informed guide to the quality of places where the public can see animals, including zoos, dolphinariums and other attractions.

We’ve used a range of measures, taken from information available online, to judge how well the animals at the particular zoo or animal attraction are looked after. More than just a ‘review’, the results are actually a Quality Index which will allow tourists and the attractions themselves to judge how well the attractions are performing.

Please note, the information we use is taken from what we assume to be genuine and factually correct comments from reviews, blogs and news stories. If there are factual inaccuracies, please let us know and we will make the relevant changes.

RIGHT-tourism Zoo Review Rating for: Maesa Elephant Camp, Thailand

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Summary

Although the Maesa Elephant Camp presents itself as a centre of expertise in ‘elephant breeding, training, healthcare and sustainable tourism’, the main activities of the Camp appear to be its elephant shows and elephant rides. Although many visitors report that the elephants generally seem well-fed and/or cared for, the Camp’s emphasis on elephant ‘performances’ nonetheless raises a number of animal welfare concerns for the 78 elephants resident at Maesa.

Reports of elephants being hit with sticks or chained are not uncommon as they are regularly made to perform for the entertainment of visitors, giving rides, ‘playing soccer’, ‘painting’, ‘dancing’ and throwing darts. In addition to having to engage in these unnatural behaviours, the elephant performances and rides restrict the elephants’ ability to express natural and social behaviours, as well as the ability to seek refuge away from visitors.

Although Maesa states that it was the first elephant camp in Thailand to achieve international accreditation for animal safety and welfare, there is still significant room for improvement. Despite presenting itself as ‘a new-age elephant camp which gives…visitors a real glimpse into the lives and facts about elephants’, Maesa Elephant Camp prioritises elephant ‘entertainment’ (and the unnatural animal behaviours this relies on) over other, more important, educational, conservational or animal welfare goals.

Report Card

Section One: Social Media and News

This section looks at how the attraction is rated by people on key reviewing sites, and in blogs/the media. The reviews are often not concerned with animal welfare, so this section has a lower influence on the overall mark than other sections. However, it is an important measure of the way the attraction is viewed by visitors.

Number of negative TripAdvisor reviews

For the most recent 20 reviews which appear on the official TripAdvisor page for the attraction, how many mention animal welfare in a negative way. The score is worked out as a percentage (see method below).

Number of negative reviews:  8/20

Score: 1.5 Points

Given that exactly half of the 20 TripAdvisor reviews considered were neutral on issues of animal welfare, the overall impression of Maesa is negative with only 2 reviews mentioning animal welfare in a positive way. The remaining reviewers described elephants undergoing ‘painful, cruel and abusive practices’ where they are poked, hit with sticks, led around with hooks in their mouths and chained.

Number of negative Google reviews

For the most recent 20 reviews which appear on the Google search page for the attraction, how many mention animal welfare in a negative way. The score is worked out as a percentage (see method below).

Number of negative reviews:  2/7

Score: 2 Points

Out of the 16 google reviews for Maesa, only 7 contained any text. 4 were neutral on animal welfare, 1 made a general observation that the elephants seemed well cared for. The 2 negative reviews described how the elephants were ‘repeatedly hit on the head’ and chained.

Number of negative news articles and blogs
For the most recent 10 independent blogs or news articles for the attraction, how many mention animal welfare in a negative way. The score is worked out as a percentage (see method below).

Number of negative mentions:  2/10

Score: 4 points

I couldn’t find any English language news stories on Maesa so these scores are derived purely from blogs. Blog dates range from 2010 (1), 2011 (1), 2012 (3), 2013 (3) and 2014 (1) with 1 undated. 5 posts were neutral, 3 were positive and 2 negative. The positive posts noted that the elephants ‘looked’ healthy, were well cared for, had plenty of rest time, and were not hit. The negative reviews stated that the camp itself did not seem to provide a natural habitat for elephants and identified that the elephants were made to engage in unnatural behaviours as part of their ‘acts’.

Total Score for Social Media and News Section:  7.5/10

 

Section Two: General Quality of Life

This section looks generally at how the animals, as a whole, appear to be treated. It is based on the internationally recognised Five Freedoms, which focus on key aspects of animal welfare including feeding, housing, health, behaviour and protection from fear/distress.

Each item is scored as either two points for a Yes, zero points for a No or one point for Possibly. (The Possibly category also includes situations where the answer would be Sometimes; or if the answer is unknown).

Absence of prolonged hunger and/or thirst

Score: Yes   2 Points

No indication of any malnourishment. A number of sources mention elephants looked well-fed/cared for.

Being fed an appropriate diet based on their wild diet

Score: Possibly   1 Point

Maesa website claims that ‘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’. Not much mention of the elephants’ actual diet, although as part of the ‘entertainment’ lots of visitors seem to participate in feeding the elephants bananas.

Ease of movement within living quarters

Score: No   0 Points

May not be directly regarding the elephants living quarters, but numerous indications of elephants being chained in various parts of the camp.

Enrichment in living quarters (eg climbing frame, toys etc)

Score: Possibly   1 Point

This one has been coded as ‘possibly’ as although the elephants have access to certain things, these tend to be as part of the elephant shows and is therefore probably more about entertainment than enrichment. What the elephants are given to access to when they are not performing is not known.

Absence of injuries or disease

Score: Yes   2 Points

No mention of any of the elephants being injured or sick. They need to be careful though as it appears the elephants are hit with sticks and chained, which can lead to injuries.

Absence of pain (eg being not being chained, or not being hit by staff)

Score: No   0 Points

A number of sources indicate that the elephants are hit with sticks, chained and led around with hooks.

Ability to express natural and social behaviours in living quarters

Score: Possibly   1 Point

This is coded as a ‘possibly’ as although the elephants are compelled to perform unnatural behaviours as part of the show, it isn’t clear what activities they are allowed to engage in when ‘resting’ or not performing.

Good human-animal relationship with staff

Score: Possibly   1 Point

This is coded as ‘sometimes’ as elephants’ relationships with their handlers/camp staff is referred to in both positive and negative lights.

Absence of general fear/distress/apathy

Score: Yes   2 Points

No direct mention of any elephants in distress, in fear or listless

Ability to seek privacy/refuge from humans and other animals

Score: No  0 Points

Although it is not clear whether or not the elephants have access to privacy/refuge when the camp is closed or the elephants are not performing, a large part of the camp’s activity is elephant shows and elephant rides. It is evident that the elephants CANNOT seek privacy and refuge WHENEVER they choose, hence the coding of ‘no’ for this point.

Total Score for General Quality of Life:  10/20

 

Section Three: Interaction with the Public

This section focusses on the way the attraction allows the public to touch, play with, photograph, feed or otherwise interact with the animals. The focus is on whether or not the interactions are causing harm or stress/discomfort to the animals, and if they could be dangerous to the public.

Each item is scored as either two points for a Yes, zero points for a No or one point for Possibly. (The Possibly category also includes situations where the answer would be Sometimes; or if the answer is unknown).

The interactions are not harmful in any way for the animal’s welfare
Score: No   0 Points

As the elephants are ‘guided’/coerced into carrying out particular activities/behaviours, this interaction cannot be considered as ‘not harmful in any way’.

The interactions are not harmful in any way for the public’s welfare (any previous history of dangerous incidents)

Score: Yes   2 Points

No evidence of any dangerous incidents

The animals are not forced to interact with the public – they can refuse

Score: No   0 Points

Elephants are made to participate in shows and elephants rides, involving indirect and direct interaction with public. Elephants are ‘guided’/coerced into a number of activities/actions as part of these shows.

The public are not allowed to handle the animals and touch them

Score: No   0 Points

Visitors can take elephant rides, feed the elephants and have their pictures taken with them (with their trunks around people etc) – personal interaction between elephants and visitors seems to be an integral part of the Maesa experience.

The interactions are supervised by staff and in an educational context

Score: Possibly   1 Point

The elephants usually appear to be supervised by staff/elephant handlers. The Maesa website states that’ we are determined to offer visitors a new-age elephant camp which gives our visitors a real glimpse into the lives and facts about elephants. What they eat, how they live, their biology, their future or plight as well as the continued development and promotion of their skills, intelligence and abilities are of utmost importance to our long term goals’. However, there is little other mention of an educational component to the interactions from bloggers, reviewers etc.

Total Score for Interaction with the Public:  3/10

Section Four: Conservation and Education

This section looks at whether or not the attraction has a focus on conservation – for example does it support animals in the wild through breeding programmes, research or donations; and education – are visitors informed about the animals so they are not simply seen as objects for human amusement/entertainment.

Each item is scored as either two points for a Yes, zero points for a No or one point for Possibly. (The Possibly category also includes situations where the answer would be Sometimes; or if the answer is unknown).

Are some of the animals part of international breeding programs?

Score: No   0 Points

According to the website, Maesa Elephant Camp has a very successful breeding programme. Several reviews/bloggers/commentators note presence of baby elephants in the camp. However, it is not clear that the breeding is being done as part of a recognised programme, or just to increase the number of animals at the camp – hence a 0 for this

Is there evidence of them having released animals into the wild?

Score: No   0 Points

No, there is no evidence that any elephants have been released into the wild. The Maesa Elephant Camp website mentions that the breeding programme has led to the ‘birth of many healthy baby elephants’, but there is not mention as to the ultimate aim of the breeding programme (i.e. release into wild).

Do they actively undertake scientific research into conservation/behaviour of their animals?

Score: Possibly   1 Point

Camp website indicates conservation, educational goals, but no evidence of actual research output.

Does the attraction give money to conservation or animal protection programmes?

Score: No   0 Points

No mention of this on website.

Does the attraction provide educational talks or written displays to inform visitors about the animals?

Score: No   0 Points

No indication of this on website or in reviews/articles etc. The ‘knowledge’ section of the Maesa website is literally blank!

Total Score for Conservation and Education:  1/10

 

Zoo Review Final Score for Maesa:  21.5/50

Rating: Average – the attraction scores well in some areas but improvements would be welcome

Do you agree or disagree with this Zoo Review? Please let us know in the Comments below.
If you are from this attraction and would like to comment on this Zoo Review, we’ll be happy to publish your response. Please email info@careforthewild.com or click here

Notes

1. This report was compiled on 1st November, 2014 by a Zoo Review Reviewer. Find out more about our Zoo Review campaign here.

2. Zoo Review Final Score is given out of 50 as a sum of the four sections, then a RIGHT-tourism Zoo Review rating is awarded based on this score:

0-10: Unacceptable – the animal welfare at this attraction appears to be of a very low standard and a cause of great concern
11-20: Poor – it appears that significant improvement is needed in order to meet welfare standards
21-30: Average – the attraction scores well in some areas but improvements would be welcome
31-40: Good – Public opinion and animal welfare measures suggest that the animals here are looked after well
41-50: Best in Class – the welfare of the animals appears to be of a very high standard

3. TripAdvisor and Google scores are worked out by dividing the number of negative welfare reviews by the total (20) and multiplying by 100 to give a percentage, then giving a score out of 2.5 as follows:

0-19% negative 2.5 points
20-39% 2 points
40-59% 1.5 points
60-79% 1 point
80-89% 0.5 point
90–100% 0 points

3. News and blog scores are worked out by dividing the number of negative welfare reviews by the total (10) and multiplying by 100 to give a percentage, then giving a score out of 5 as follows:

0-19% negative 5 points
20-39% 4 points
40-59% 3 points
60-79% 2 point
80-89% 1 point
90–100% 0 points





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