When it comes to an animal as majestic as the elephant that is in many occasions seen to interact with humans, carry them on their back or do their bidding, people often get quite convinced that it is totally okay to interact, rather interfere with these massive animals. As much as riding on an elephant back or taking a shower from water oozing out of their trunks or even trying to wash them seem interesting, in reality, these activities constrict the innate behaviors of the animals.

For quite some years now, there has been significant uproar from people who care for animal wellbeing in respect to approaching elephants and training them to do activities to please tourists. Besides, none can ignore the alarming fact of rising number of elephant poaching for the elusive (and costing a fortune!) ivories as well as body organs even in strict security. There is no doubt that banning ivory sale will aid in conserving the elephants but at the same time, it is a safer option for both the animals and the humans to keep distance from each other so as to not disturbing natural behavior.

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Elephant Sanctuaries In Thailand

Elephants being used for pleasure activities for the tourists and heavy-duty tasks are still very popular in Thailand and it would be hard to find a sanctuary where these animals are left in their desired habitat. The Chiang Rai Elephant Sanctuary, Elephant Valley Thailand has strict rule on letting elephants be elephants in their desirable habitat and teaching them to be elephants again by shedding off any trauma.

The five principles that this sanctuary abides by are –

  • Giving freedom from thirst and hunger by providing sufficient and ready access to potable water and healthy diet to keep them healthy and vigorous.
  • Giving freedom from discomfort by offering them proper environment where they feel at home.
  • Giving freedom from any injury, pain or disease with quick and thorough diagnosis, treating them of illness and injury and adopting proper handling techniques.
  • Giving them freedom of expressing their innate behavior by providing sufficient space to roam about (40 acres of forest and grassland habitat), company of other elephants and proper facilities to grow.
  • Giving them freedom from distress and fear of cruelty and dominance on the hands of human by ensuring sustainable conditions as well as rehab treatment where they can cope up with the mental trauma.

The Elephant Valley Project

Operational for over ten years in Cambodia, the Elephant Valley Project is a pioneering step in Thailand where the approach is towards no riding, no washing and no bathing of the national animal. In this process, humans have to keep distance from the elephants so that they do not do through the “Phajaan” process where these gentle and compassionate-minded animals are tortured with spearheads and trained rigorously against their natural behavior to be submissive to the tourists so that they can ride them according to schedule. Not only does the Phajaan breaks an elephant’s spirit but also sows a seed of fear from humans.

While being the largest sanctuary for captive elephants in Asia, Elephant Valley Project makes sure that the 1500 hectares of bamboo groves, grassland and forest in Elephant Valley Thailand is perfectly utilized by not more than 10 elephants so that they have ample space to explore.

  • From half day to full day visits, overnight experiences to volunteering programs, the sanctuary has many options to explore the world of elephants and that too with a personal guide who can narrate you the daily routine of the animals.
  • After health and safety briefing, where tourists are instructed to keep at least 25 meters of distance from the animals, tourists can see how the former riding and logging elephants are now roaming freely in the grassy paddocks and relaxes wherever they please.
  • Elephant castles are built where you can rest and these are the only sections where tourists might have the experience of being up close with the animals, only if the elephants decide to approach you. 
  • Watch the elephants munch grass with all the time in the world, watch them roll over in mud without any direction from mahouts or frolicking people wanting to get photographed. Hear them trumpet in content as they dip into the pond without anyone scrubbing them and mahouts watching from distance. Watch them be inquisitive when you are in volunteering task, play at the washing area or kick a tyre.

Elephants are meant to live in the grasslands or jungles and not interact with humans unless they want to. They need to be left in their wild habitat to help them grow properly, arrange food in their natural way, take mud bath or splash water on their bodies, nurture their young ones, mate with another elephant and roam in herds –only to be watched in awe by humans, from distance. The Elephant Valley in Thailand knows the importance of supporting the natural growth of elephants and this alternative approach of watching elephants in their natural habitat is really commendable. One can only hope that more and more organizations address this issue and make the world a healthy place for these giants.