A SPECIAL NOTE ON OUR ELEPHANT SANCTUARY VISIT: Since posting this, we have decided to change our elephant sanctuary visit to a more natural experience. Travellers will learn about and observe rescued Asian elephants from a safe distance, as well as join them on a walk to a watering hole. However, the experience does not feature riding, petting, feeding or bathing the elephants. Although those activities seem innocent enough, in any situation in which a wild animal has been trained to interact with people it potentially puts them in danger.
by Lino DiNallo
Until my first Out Adventure to Thailand, I underestimated what a visit to the elephant sanctuary entailed. Before then, it was just a line item in our itinerary. After that day, however, I was a changed man. I bonded with these magnificent beasts and felt like the Jane Goodall of Elephas maximus – a patron of trunks if you will. Read on to learn about our beautiful day together.
First and foremost: know your sanctuary. While there are lots of elephant “sanctuaries” in Thailand, be aware they don’t all exist purely for the elephants’ benefit. If you want to visit, do your research and ensure you support a reputable organization. Avoid places that promote elephant rides or anything else that prioritizes your personal entertainment. Rest assured Out Adventures has been working with a reputable organization, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, for years. They place the animals’ welfare, care and rehabilitation over human amusement.
After a two-hour drive out of the city, up to the mountains, and into a jungle valley, we came across the secluded sanctuary and camp. We were given a brief orientation, then we dove right in to feed the elephants bananas and corn for breakfast.
We met and fed three separate elephant families spread across the property. Then we stopped for lunch and savoured a much-needed siesta. When you’re out in the jungle with no air-conditioning, full of tasty Thai fare, it’s only appropriate.
Following lunch, we helped make ‘vitamin’ balls’ to supplement the elephants’ diet. This involved mashing bananas with rice and other nutrient-dense foods. Then, our hands straight to their mouths, we fed the elephants. Let’s just say sticking your paw into the toothless maw of an elephant is a vivid, sloppy experience. Ahem.
The highlight of the day was definitely our afternoon at the
spa mud pit. You know when dogs roll onto their backs and beg you for belly rubs? Elephants do the exact same thing, only they could crush and smother you. But hey, when in Rome as they say. We stripped off our pants off, got down, and dirty.
From the mud pit, we ventured to the watering hole and rinsed off. There were water fights, more splashing around, and the beasts kept begging for belly rubs.
After feeding them, playing with them and washing them, our visit came to an end. Our bodies were exhausted but our souls, invigorated.