Ethical elephant sanctuary Thailand
Our day at an ethical elephant sanctuary Thailand
Ethical elephant sanctuary Thailand: Happy Christmas y’all! At least, we are having our Christmas today as we will be travelling from Thailand to Sri Lanka on December 25th. The girls opened their baby dolls this morning and I’m currently half-submerged in neon pink plastic accessories and Toys R Us wrapping paper.
Yesterday for our ‘Christmas Eve’ we decided to do something really special and visit some elephants who live nearby. I had thought we would give elephants a miss as it is very difficult to find an ethical elephant sanctuary Thailand- most of them offer rides on the elephants which we didn’t want to do and also use hooks to scare and hurt the elephants into complying with the mahout’s (handler’s) commands.
We mentioned this to a friend who works at the charity we’ve been staying with, and she recommended visiting a group of elephants on the Thai-Burma border. We were told that there was no riding allowed and the mahouts didn’t have hooks to control the elephants.
I was sceptical but after discussion with several other people who had been, and our family, we decided to go. We agreed that if there was any unkind behaviour towards the elephants we would leave.
Well, it was good. We drove into the hills, near to a Karen (a hill tribe) village, and met three elephants. They were little girls aged 6, 5 and 3- almost exactly the same as our girls!
The day started by greeting the elephants with a snack of sugar cane and bananas. They stood behind a small wooden fence, no cages- in fact there was a ‘ooh-err’ moment when the 5-year-old elephant decided to step over the fence to help herself to our basket of bananas, so it seemed to be more of a laughable guideline than a fence!
It was pretty striking as we realised that at any point we could be crushed into dust; I hope that we were right in thinking that a trust-based relationship does more for obedience than threats (actually I did a post on this, click here) and it certainly seemed like there was a good level of understanding between the mahouts and the elephants.
After their snack we headed through the fields and jungle to a lake where the elephants had a bath, slapped mud over themselves and generally messed about. We were thankful for the wellies that we’d been given at the start, but that didn’t help much when one of the elephants sprayed us – those trunks hold a LOT of water! Eira and Elfie were a bit tentative to get near the elephants while they were in the water, but Esmae got stuck in right away, rubbing mud onto her elephant and rinsing it off.
It was a bit cold for the elephants to stay in for long, so they headed up the hill to a natural spring for a drink. The mahouts then told us to mix handfuls of salt into the soil and the elephants ate it; apparently they get extra vitamins and minerals from the mixture.
We were all hungry by this point, and sat down to a traditional Karen lunch of rice with spicy vegetables and herb salad – delish! The gas stove was powered by bio-gas made from elephant dung, which the kids were fascinated by.
Then it was time for the real messy job- clearing out the elephant dung and shovelling it into a chamber to make the bio-gas. We donned rubber gloves and picked up piles of poop, dodging giant elephant feet and wandering trunks. The girls took turns to stir water into the mixture and push it down into the chamber for it to react. Yum.
It was time to say goodbye to the elephants after a wonderful morning- we will always remember our time with these three little girls, and Esmae’s favourite animals are now officially “elephants and cats!”
Ethical elephant sanctuary Thailand: Our thoughts and recommendations
Honesty on this blog is extremely important to me, and as a fairly new vegan (four months) I am finding my feet with how to navigate situations with animals as we travel, so I wanted to de-brief in a way. When it comes to finding an ethical elephant sanctuary Thailand, this seemed to tick most of the boxes. However, there were a couple of things that, if I had known before we went, I wouldn’t have been happy with.
One was the fact that when we arrived, we were given traditional Karen tunics to wear. I was uncomfortable as I do not agree with wearing the dress of indigenous cultures / cultural appropriation. However saying no to wearing the dress felt like it would have been really rude, as there were Karen staff with the elephants. This was difficult and we ended up wearing the tunics, but I felt uneasy about it all day.
The second thing was that the elephants were encouraged to interact with us, for example the mahouts said certain words to get them to spray Patrick with water at the river. There were no hooks or threats involved but I don’t like anybody, human or otherwise, being made to do something they don’t naturally want to, and it would have been better if we could have just walked with the elephants and seen them do what they wanted to do.
For that reason I’m not going to actively recommend that people visit the group of elephants that we did; it was miles more gentle and elephant-centric than any other similar place that I have come across, but because of the reasons above I don’t feel comfortable encouraging people to go. This is a really hard decision as the other side of the coin is that many local people rely on activities like this for their livelihood. I just don’t know what’s the right thing to do and I hope that as we travel more I’ll be able to discern these types of situations better.
Elephant volunteer Thailand: Our sanctuary top pick
One place that has repeatedly come up in discussions when people ask about visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary Thailand is the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai (click here). I haven’t personally been there but in vegan forums it seems popular so if you are looking to volunteer with elephants in Thailand I would encourage you to look into this place.
If you are travelling to Thailand (or, indeed, anywhere), click here to check out Hotels Combined for the best hotel deals from several booking engines, doing the hard work for you!
We sold everything to travel the world with our family. Click here if you fancy reading about our travel adventures in Thailand or click here for Bali. Click here for our home schooling inspo and here for respectful parenting articles!