Elephant riding and shows are the ultimate experiences that most travelers put on their bucket list. That’s why these gentle giants are subject to abuse in training for performance in shows and to accept strange riders. They actually do not have strong backs, and each adult one can carry a maximum of 150 kg for 4 hours only. Sadly, many of elephants in Thailand have to work in an 8-hour shift carrying 2 people at a time. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of elephant centers that apply sustainable methods giving friendly animals a refuge as well as keeping mahouts and tourists happy. Let’s take a closer look at the following ethical elephant interactions in Thailand.
Each elephant sanctuary offers visitors different programs designed to balance the needs of tourists, elephants, mahouts, and their families. All of them are surrounded by quiet forest spaces for giant pachyderms to relax in. You can make a one-day visit, staying overnight, or participating in a comprehensive volunteer program. Commonly, tourists will:
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It is highly recommended to do research and be prepared to travel places that protect these lovely animals from being abused if you want to interact with them. Luckily, there is no shortage of chances for you to do so in Thailand. Here is the list of amazing ethical elephant sanctuaries throughout this country.
(Photo by Elephant Rescue Park, Chiangmai)
Known as a paradise for elephants, Elephant Rescue Park was founded to provide abused and homeless giant pachyderms a safe, loving, and secure environment. Apart from that, they offer private and group tours for those who desire to ethically interact with magnificent animals. In addition to taking care of elephants and planting trees, you will have a chance to learn how to make vitamin ball for the elephants, and visit the Poo Poo Paper Factory. This place is actually an eco-friendly and outdoor museum park that will introduce you and explain in detail unique steps in making paper products from elephant poop fibers.
This is a nature reserve located in southern Thailand containing virgin jungle, limestone karst formations, and the famous Cheow Lan Lake. Khao Sok National Park is also home to rare species, for example, hornbill birds, Rafflesia flowers, tigers, gibbons, and elephants - Asia’s largest land animal. The offered ‘Elephant Experience’ is an ethical, educative, and very interesting way to get up personal with these friendly animals including feeding, washing, and interacting with them. Also, you can closely see elephants enjoying a mud bath as well as exploring the free-roaming pen.
Exotic Voyages' members at Patara Elephant Farm
Home to 55 elephants, Patara Elephant Farm is Thailand’s only elephant breeding farm. They encourage people to enjoy interactive experiences on joining, sharing responsibilities, and taking care of these giant and gentle animals. ‘Elephant Owner for A Day’ is a very special program created for all of you to learn and interact with elephants as what a mahout would do daily. You will be trained to approach your lovely friend properly, understand its temperament, feed and check its health, bathe it in the river, ride on its neck, and communicate via different spoken commands.
Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand is a registered foundation that has carried out 9 welfare projects through Thailand and Elephant Refuge and Education Centre is one of them. It houses numerous elephants ranging from 1 to 65 years old. Each of them has a name and a very sad story about its abusive past. This camp is for ethical day visits as well as volunteer trips for up to 4 weeks. You can explore the center with an expert guide, walk with an elephant, give it a refreshing shower afterward. Likewise, you will have the opportunity to observe the feeding of 15 rescued elephants and more than 450 wild animals.
(Photo by Elephant Nature Park)
Also in Chiang Mai, Elephant Nature Park is another well-known elephant conservation project since 1995. This nature park is a safe refuge for 35 elephants, rescued dogs, cats, and other animals. Volunteers and visitors will contribute to healing while learning about elephants’ lives in the past and present. A lot of elephants find it difficult to mix with others, so there are many special programs like Elephant Wellness (single day), Care for Elephants (single day), or Journey to Freedom (7 days) to build trust and love by humans showing them love, respect, and care in a different way to their harsh past.
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Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) works as a non-profit organization that is entirely dependent on funds obtained from visitors, foundations, and other agencies to help elephants and other animals. You will share all aspects of the elephants’ world through hands-on experiences including gathering food, walking with these gentle pachyderms to release sites, and scrubbing them down. Otherwise, you can hike with the elephants and set up camp in the midst of the jungle to completely understand their natural habitat. Staying here for several nights and you will get a chance to know the village of mahouts, their unique culture, and share different approaches to elephant care.
(Photo by Burm and Emily's Elephant Sanctuary)
As a place for elephants to call home, Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary gives old, injured, and retired creatures a chance to live free, have a good rest in its natural environment, and stay away from the busy city life, and hardships of trekking. This might be your once-in-a-lifetime experience to see these beautiful creatures get better and try traditional Thai living. Their volunteer program runs from Monday to Friday with main activities such as observing the elephants, preparing the afternoon treats, feeding, bathing them if needed, cleaning the elephants’ areas, and taking care of other animals. To make the most of the program, you should take part in other activities like teaching English to local children, planting trees, visiting local temples, or a weaving village, attending cooking classes to learn how to make Thai desserts, and so on.
If you are interested in these ethical elephant interactions and exploring the breathtaking beauty of Thailand, check our Thailand Nature Touch Vacation!