Updated: Mar 7
I searched far and wide numerous times in hopes of finding an actual ethical elephant sanctuary and it was really hard. I am an advocate for eco-tourism and do not support animals for tourism, especially if it harms the well being of the animals. If you too are in search of eco-tourism and ethical elephant sanctuary then search no further as I am in full support of Elephant Nature Park.
Elephant Nature Park was founded by "Sangdeaun Lek Chailert she was born 1961 in a small hill tribe village of Baan Lao, two hours north of Chiang Mai Thailand. ... With a love and respect for her country's national symbol, and the knowledge that they were becoming endangered, Lek began advocating for the rights and welfare of the Asian elephants in Thailand." (Save the Elephants) you can read more about her and her journey to create Elephant Nature Park here.
I got to meet the founder and she truly cares about the elephants and their well being. Not only is the elephant sanctuary a safe haven for abused and elephants who have worked in tourism their whole life, she also rescues animals such as water buffaloes, cats, dogs, and they are beginning to take in other animals that are in high risk or risk of becoming endangered. Their entire mission is very wholesome and it shines through all of the workers as well. The workers have worked in the nature park for several years and have gotten to personally know the elephants as they care for them often and are knowledgeable about the elephants and their habitats. Their goal is to create as close as possible a natural environment for the elephants, while not creating more harm. releasing the elephants back into the wild is harmful due to the lack of social and survival skills.
My friend and I were on a holiday as we are both English teachers in the central region of Thailand. In the times of this pandemic the sanctuary is struggling just as most businesses are globally. We didn't know if the sanctuary would be open and if they were still allowing visitors. Luckily there were a small group of us that were keen on visiting the sanctuary so we go to do a whole entire day trip to see the whole nature park. The main highlite was the elephants for us, but typically they offer different sorts of packages due to the high number of visitors they receive. We got to do a 1 day tour package with a nomadic couple who are from the USA and Canada and a US retiree. We all got to get to know each other a bit more and spend a lovely day together in the nature and learning all about elephants and their rescue stories.
I won't share with you all of the elephants stories, but want to mention that many of these elephants have been through so much abuse whether its emotional and or physical abuse. One elephant named "Yai" which means grandma in Thai was completely blind due to overworking and abuse she has endured through her life in tourism captivity. These elephants used to spend all day working averaging 8-10 hours a day, when elephants are normally meant to be eating and grazing for 80% of their day... as you can see this is detrimental for their health and means elephants in tourism are extremely malnourished. The tourism lifestyle for an elephant goes against their nature and doesn't allow them to be happy and healthy. I have seen a good amount of elephant riding around Thailand and these elephants you can just tell that they are sad and tired. (I didn't actively want to partake in this, however you will run into it whilst sightseeing around Thailand even if you want absolutely nothing to do with it, you will come across it). What I had learned from talking with our guide was that you can tell the mood of the elephants by their ears. How they are flapping and if they are drooped or not. If the ears are flapping at a moderate speed back and forth (kind of life a dog wagging its tail happily) then the elephant is content and happy. If the ears are dropping and not flapping much at all the elephant is distressed or sad. My main takeaway from this visit was that elephants are majestic and massive creatures that deserve to live in happiness and freedom. Just because tourists want to see the animals it does not mean we should exploit the elephants livelihood for our own enjoyment. Elephants can live their best lives, while we observe them in their natural habitat in an eco-tourism mindset. If we all think mindfully and make our goal to be sustainable and be an advocate for well being in our travels, then we have that power. As consumers and travelers we have all of the say in the practices when it comes to tourism and thinking more and more about eco-tourism. We can ensure we are having more of an educational experience about elephants rather than exploiting them and causing more harm than good. I am an advocate for eco-tourism and this is a big part in the choices I make whilst abroad and in my travel experiences. Being an advocate for eco-tourism can be as simple as advocating for ethical elephant sanctuaries, buying locally handmade goods, support local business and tours, home stays, sustainable travel, and mindfulness in how the choices you make as a consumer impacts travel.
We got to feed some elephants. They really emphasized not forcing anything on the elephants and only some elephants we could feed due to how friendly the elephants are to humans. We fed them sugar cane, brush leaves, bananas, and watermelons.
If you loved Elephant Nature Park like I did then you can check out their website and socials here. If you are an animal lover this nature park is perfect in every way as they truly love their animals and have big goals of taking care of the animals and creating a safe haven for not just elephants, but cats, dogs, water buffaloes, and more. Of course they accept donations always and they have endless video updates on their Facebook on how the elephants are doing.
They even have a long term or short term volunteer option for those animal lovers that want to help give back and learn more about how to care for these animals.
If you are interested in visiting an elephant sanctuary I recommend this one with all of my true experience. If time allows it I would love to be a volunteer for this sanctuary and learn more about wildlife and give them more of my support and love to these animals.
As always peace, love, and light. xx Address: Elephant Nature Park Office
1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing,
Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand
Office Hours: 07:00-17:00 Mon-Sun. (GMT+7)