A couple months before our Thailand trip Shane and I were sitting at our favorite bar talking about how excited we were to finally see elephants! I couldn’t believe I was going to see these beautiful 9 foot tall, 4-ton creatures up close and personal. Elephants have been among my favorite animals since I was little. I love the Ivory Ella shop and I have an elephant beanie baby sitting on the dash of my Nissan Rogue!
But after finishing our first drink the conversation turned. I couldn’t believe what had come out of Shane’s mouth! He said that he was excited to RIDE the elephants! I thought, OH NO YOU DIDN’T! You don’t ride elephants, that’s super cruel to them and the places that let you ride them don’t treat them well. Shane then pulled out his phone to show me Instagram photographs from Elephant Safari Park in Bali of beautiful models sprawled across the elephants backs, and the elephant’s looking very happy and well taken care of. But behind the scenes this is not the case.
So many people are uneducated of what actually goes on at these types of elephant parks. That is why it is important to do your research when choosing a reputable elephant sanctuary in Thailand.
Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants
Sadly, the elephant trekking industry thrives on foreign tourists riding elephants, or wanting to watch them do tricks. The taming process for teaching these gentle giants these unnatural talents is horrific and sad, and done when the elephants are very young.
This process is called the “phajaan,” where a baby elephant’s spirit is completely broken. The baby is torn away from its mother and placed in a space similar to a closet where they are unable to move. After this, they are beaten with bull hooks and clubs, while being starved and deprived of sleep. Sadly, many elephant camps in Thailand still mistreat the animals with bull hooks. My coworker visited Thailand a couple years ago and they had decided to ride an elephant without knowing what goes on behind the scenes. She said that while they were riding the elephant it was being beaten with the bull hook to make it walk faster. She had no idea and felt so sad for riding the poor elephant and wished that she hadn’t.
The Best ethical Elephant Sanctuary near Bangkok: Wildlife Friends Foundation
Fast forward to the end of our trip and we were so happy that we chose to go to Wildlife Friends Foundation in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. We had heard that the best elephant sanctuary in Thailand is in Chiang Mai, called Elephant Nature Park, however we were not exploring north Thailand on this trip. If you’re wondering where to see elephants in Bangkok, the closest reputable sanctuary is in Kanchanaburi. YOU WILL LOVE IT!
WFFT responds to reports by the public and government officials of wildlife in need of care. Many of these rescued wild animals are kept as pets illegally, or are found injured. WFFT was ideal for us because it offered transfer to and from Bangkok. We simply paid for the transportation via paypal ahead of time and a driver came and picked us right up from Le Meridien hotel at 7:45 AM. It was a two-hour journey that flew by with the full day tour starting at 10 AM. Pricing was 1600 Baht per person, and 2200 baht per car for a one way from Bangkok.
The day started with our tour guide giving us an informed guided tour all around the Wildlife Rescue Center. This recue center has more than just elephants! We learned all about gibbons, saw Malayan sun bears, a crocodile (or alligator not sure), orangutans, ostriches, slow lorises, macaques, and of course lots of rescued puppies! I loved learning about the gibbons and hearing their extremely loud calls! Here is an adorable picture of two baby gibbons rescued after a poacher left them behind in a hotel room.
Walk With Our Elephants
After our tour we were provided a delicious lunch, and there was even a place to buy ice cream and smoothies (I can’t get enough mango in Thailand!). Then it was off to meet our elephants! We got to walk with an elephant, feed her, and give her a shower afterwards! Our group was lucky enough to walk with 2 elephants because these two elephants love each other so much that they are never separated. Watching these two elephants interact with each other was a magical experience.
We then met and greeted more elephants from the elephant sanctuary and learned about their individual stories on how they were rescued and their temperaments. One of the things I learned was the pink skin on an elephants hide is actually sunburn from being in the sun too much and not being able to cover themselves with mud to protect their hides. So many of these elephants were blind, or injured in other ways from their elephant trekking pasts.
The tour ended with us checking out the animal hospital, and riding around to phase 3 of the Wildlife Rescue Center, where they are building new gibbon islands! Then it was time to say goodbye to the friends we met that day and our guide. We wished we had decided to stay the night (you can stay in these eco lodges .) If you book an eco lodge you are provided with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and you get to sleep with elephants right at your front door!
Spread The Word
We need to spread the word about elephant trekking. It is us tourists who long to see the elephants and ride them for that perfect Instagram photo. I am sure so many of these tourists would not partake if they knew the truth about elephant trekking in Southeast Asia, and would choose a reputable elephant sanctuary instead.
I hope you learned from what I have shared after my own elephant experience in Thailand and this information will help you make an informed decision when you decide to visit with these gentle giants yourself! If you would like to volunteer with elephants, there are wildlife volunteer projects located in SE Asia, Thailand, and Laos. Click here to make a difference!
How does this information make you feel? Did you learn something new about elephant trekking in Southeast Asia? Please drop a message in the comments below!
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