Why You Should Visit The First Ethical Elephant Sanctuary In Phuket
On many people’s bucket lists, when visiting Thailand, is to see elephants; but looking for the right place to see these amazing mammals within Thailand can be difficult and also can leave you confused about whether places are ethical or not.
After doing extensive research and sprawling on the web; I came across Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, a park where animal welfare practices treat Thailand’s friendly giants with love, affection, and care.
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is located on the outskirts of Khao Phra Thaeo National Park in Phuket, which is about a 1 hour away from resort areas such as Patong, Karon, and Kata. I chose the morning session with an early transfer pick up time of 7 am. The day begins by assembling in the registration hall and boarding on small jeep like Tuk Tuk and heading into the National Park. On route, it’s amazing to see the elephants roaming around merrily and enjoying their natural surroundings.
In the main waiting area you’re welcomed with smiles from the workers who are mostly volunteers. A large table filled with hot and cold drink, fruits and endless Thai snacks - so if you missed breakfast due to the early departure, you’re in a for a treat.
A short introductory video explains how Phuket Elephant Sanctuary offers a new home for the overtired elephants who have suffered from working long hours in the logging and tourism industry. They rescue sick, injured and old elephants by welcoming them back into their indigenous habitat. Believe me...you're going to need some tissues for the rest of the day!
Now it was time to meet the these fascinating animals. It's really nice to see that the elephants can just be what they are...elephants! You get to spend a good amount of time with a number of different elephants, learning about their past and how long they have been at the sanctuary. It is truly heartwarming to see them peacefully enjoying themselves, but very emotional at the same time. The guides are very efficient, knowledgeable and you could really see how passionate they are about their jobs and how much they love the elephants. Each elephant has their own 'keeper' who looks after them every day and it is clear they have a special bond with that person too! We fed them pineapples and bananas, and observe the gentle giants as they enjoy their newfound freedom, socialized with each other and bathe freely in the freshwater lagoons.
The lunch buffet afterward was delicious and would 100% recommend that you stay for it! I would highly recommend this place to elephant/animal lovers; it ticks all the ethical boxes and they are a great charity to help. Your visit guarantees to leave you inspired, transformed and in awe of these majestic mammals. So please go an visit these exceptional animals as the money you pay for your ticket goes towards helping them by helping to save to buy more Elephants that are being kept in horrific conditions, and then bring them to the sanctuary which will become their safe haven.
Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand - 5 Things to Look Out For
While this may seem obvious, elephants need food to survive and be healthy – and that means a rich variety of nutrients. Feeding the elephants is on offer at many elephant camps and sanctuaries as part of an activity during your time with them. Ideally, sanctuary will need to be able to provide elephants with access to a forested area where they are free to roam and eat foods natural to their diet such as bamboo leaves, bark and grass - with the occasional fruit as a treat! Elephants need their 5 a day as well! If this is not possible, the camp will need to ensure that the elephants are eating a rich and varied diet to ensure their health and well being is maintained.
It goes without saying that elephants need access to drinking water, but access to water for the elephants to bathe in is also important to their well being as well. A sanctuary should have a large water area, e.g. access to a river, for elephants to swim, play, bathe and cool down in Thailand’s humid heat.
3. Interaction with other Elephants
Elephants are very social animals and it is important that they are allowed to be with other elephants. An ethical camp will give elephants the time and freedom to socialise with each other and display their natural behaviours.
It is important to mention those that work most closely with the elephants – the mahouts. Once admired in Thailand and now often forgotten, the mahouts are crucial to the well-being of formerly domesticated elephants. A good mahout will have many years of experience working with elephants and will have already formed a loving and respectful relationship with them. A good sanctuary, will understand and ensure the happiness and well-being of the elephants. A camp that treats its mahouts fairly and with respect naturally treats their elephants the same way.
5. Limited Human & Object Contact
Elephant tourism in Thailand takes on many different forms and many of the unethical camps have mistreated elephants by allowing them to participate in activities which are not normally part of their everyday life. From elephant rides to elephants performing in shows, to even bathing with the elephants. These activities have been inflicted onto the elephants where they have been punished, made afraid and forced into these routines. The less human contact or object interaction the more ethical the sanctuary.
Finally, it is important to do your own research. If there is a camp/sanctuary you are interested in visiting but a little unsure about, see what others have said about it online. Also, feel free to ask questions – an ethical camp will not hesitate to answer them. By making the right choice on your visit to Thailand, you can rest assured that you are not only helping to sustain these wonderful creatures but are sure to leave with memories that, like the elephants themselves, you will never forget.
Find out more about PES’s amazing elephant programmes and more about the elephants stories here!