Growing up, I loved all kinds of animals, but I’ve always felt especially drawn to these gentle giants. They are intelligent and social, soft but protective, statuesque yet unostentatious. After I graduated from college (bear in mind this was almost a decade ago!), my friends and I went on a trip to Phuket for some R&R, and somehow found ourselves at one of the “cultural theme parks” there. The theme park has one of the largest shows in Asia with trapeze artists, pyrotechnics, and of course – performing animals.
The minute we sat down I could feel my heart sink. What had we gotten ourselves into? As soon as I saw the elephant trainers force them to stand on their two front legs it hit me and I just couldn’t stomach what was to come: I had to get the hell out. To this day, I still deeply regret patronizing that establishment and won’t share a stock photo because I can’t even stand to look at one.
But look – I am not here to lecture or preach.
Without sounding too cliché, the more you know the better equipped you are to make a sound decision, one that’s right for you and your family. There are so many wonderful places around the world where you can support and nurture the growth and survival of elephants, and I would encourage you to look into all the different options. I will say this though, I have since visited the Yala, Udawalawe and Kaudulla National Parks in Sri Lanka and witnessing elephants in their natural habitat is pretty darn incredible.
I also finally visited Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, a rescue and rehabilitation centre, and absolutely loved the opportunity to spend some quality time with the rescued elephants.
So, what are elephant sanctuaries and what do they do?
In general, an elephant “sanctuary” (or “park”, “camp”, “orphanage”) is a home for elephants that have been rescued or retired from the riding, logging, street begging and/or circus industries (just to name a few). It provides medical attention, food, water and space for them to live out their lives; however, given the lack of availability of natural habitat, elephant ownership or ongoing medical issues these elephants live in captivity and may not be returned to their natural habitat. Some, like the Elephant Transit Home in Sri LankaElephant Transit Home in Sri Lanka, return the elephants to the wild to re-integrate with herds in national parks.
Many facilities that call themselves a sanctuary, park, camp or orphanage are open to visitors who can interact with these elephants for a price – the fee goes towards food, bills, salaries and so on so that the facility can continue to operate. However, if you are researching places to interact with or observe animals, there are a few factors that you should bear in mind. According to the World Animal Protection organization, “If you can climb, ride, hug, hold or touch an elephant, chances are the elephant has been subjected to cruelty and is living in poor conditions.”
From the WAP’s Research Report on the conditions for elephants used in tourism in Asia: “A true elephant-friendly venue is purely observational for visitors, where the safety of visitors and wellbeing of elephants is not affected by the need to constantly control the animals. The elephants would be managed in humane ways through the mahout who allows a maximum of freedom or through advanced ‘protected contact’ techniques.”
Love and want to contribute to the well-being and conservation of elephants? Here are a number of ethical elephant sanctuaries, orphanages and national parks around the world that you should visit ASAP where you can observe elephants in a protected setting as well as in the wild.
There are some great articles that I’ve linked to below from travel bloggers who have taken the time to share their experiences at some of these places, and the World Elephant Day website is another fantastic resource for information on foundations, trusts and projects dedicated to elephant conservation, protection, research and education! A big thank you to the Instagrammers and travel writers below who were kind enough to let me share their photos! I encourage you to take a look at the rest of their Instagram feeds for more beautiful pictures.
1. David Sheldrick Orphanage, Nairobi, Africa
2. Yala National Park, Sri Lanka / Yoga, Wine & Travel: Discover Yala National Park in Sri Lanka – What You Need to Know
3. Amboseli National Park, Kenya, Africa / Wander With Jo: To Kenya, With Love
4. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand / Time Travel Blonde: Choose Ethical Tourism and Care for Our Gentle Giants
5. Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, Africa / Safari Junkie: Tarangire National Park
6. Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand / Yoga, Wine & Travel: Ethical Elephant Interaction at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai
7. Nairobi National Park, Nairobi, Africa
8. Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand / Intentional Travelers: Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary + Hill Tribe Homestay
9. Kruger National Park, South Africa
10. Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka / Yoga, Wine & Travel: An Epic Elephant Safari in Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s biodiversity is one of the highest in the world. Click here for everything you need to know to plan your trip to Sri Lanka!
11. Nagarhole National Park, India
Did you know that you can visit Nagarhole National Park from Mysore? Click here for my guide to visiting Mysore to practice Yoga!
12. Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka / Yoga, Wine & Travel: Visiting Orphaned Baby Elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka
13. Minneriya & Kaudulla National Parks, Sri Lanka / Yoga, Wine & Travel: How to See the Elephant Gathering in the Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks in Sri Lanka
You might also like: The Best Places to See Wild Elephants in Sri Lanka
14. Samui Elephant Sanctuary, Koh Samui (Thailand) / Yoga, Wine & Travel: Koh Samui Elephant Sanctuary: Rescuing Elephants from Riding Camps and Beyond
15. MandaLao Elephant Conservation, Laos / Yoga, Wine & Travel: Trekking With Giants at MandaLao Elephant Conservation in Laos: An Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Luang Prabang
Have you visited an elephant sanctuary, orphanage or wildlife park that you loved? Please share your experience with me in the comments section!
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