For many travellers, planning a trip to Asia includes an elephant ride in their list of must-do experiences. Elephants offering rides to tourists are trained and treated harshly, ending up as victims of abuse. Why not replace that with a visit to an elephant sanctuary? Or better yet, volunteer to help out.

Elephant Nature Park, Thailand

Elephant Nature Park is where the rescued gentle giants find sanctuary. About 60 kms from Chiang Mai,  meet its star residents like the adorable, curious Jungle Boy, born in the middle of the jungle and nanny Kham Paan – who plays doting grandma to a baby elephant. You can visit for a day, walk with elephants through the dense forest, stay overnight or volunteer at the nature park where rescued animals find much needed shelter. For more details, visit their site.

A mahout feeds an elephant at ENP. Photo: Adbar/ CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary, Thailand

BLES has created a haven for retired and rescued Thai elephants who now roam freely within 500 acres of forested land. Katherine Connor created BLES in memory of the baby elephant, Boon Lott (which means survivor in Thai). Meet the family – Pang Tong (Mrs Gold in Thai) is the mother of Boon Lott and the matriarch, Somai, a rare case of an elephant donation and the bubbly and boisterous Lom (Umbrella in Thai), among others.You could experience their home stay program here – the sanctuary lies 8 km from the village of Baan Tuek in Sukhothai, North Thailand.

Elephant Freedom Project, Sri Lanka 

The Elephant Freedom project is a haven for domestic elephants who are free from work, saved from tourist riding and from wood logging places. The elephants go for a wash and swim in the river and in the purpose build enclosure of 26,909 sq ft(2500 sqm). One instance of a rescue is Manika, almost 40 years old, who worked in the logging industry all her life. You can visit for a day or a week or more. It’s hands-on at the project – you can bathe the elephants, walk with them, clean elephant beds, etc. The project is near Pinnawala – located at Kegalle approximately two hours from the airport.

Photo: http://www.elephantfreedomproject.com/

Photo: http://www.elephantfreedomproject.com/

Elephant Valley Project, Cambodia 

Elephant Valley Project (EVP) is a Cambodian ecotourism project by the NGO The Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment (E.L.I.E). Based in Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri Cambodia, EVP provides an alternative approach to elephant care, rehabilitation and conservation. The sanctuary offers options for local families to bring their elephants to the sanctuary for rest and recuperation. In exchange, their owners can receive monthly compensation, preferential working conditions and elephant care. EVP is a series of interlaced rented farms that is surrounded by farms and forest. Visit or volunteer to help the sanctuary.

EVP is based 11 km from Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia, near the Vietnam border. It is approximately 5 to 6 hours travel from Phnom Penh and about 12 hours travel from Siem Reap.

The Surin Project, Thailand

With over 300 elephants registered in Surin, the province is the cradle of elephant husbandry in Thailand. Heavy logging and increasing development have left Surin with few forested areas and decreasing work opportunities for mahouts and their elephants. Located in the village of Baan Tha Klang in Surin province, the Elephant Study Center now subsidises nearly 200 mahouts and their elephants to live in the center and thus stay off the streets of Bangkok. The mahouts are helped financially and in return, agree to leave their bullhook at home, unchain their elephant for at least three hours per day and refrain from taking part in elephant rides or circus shows, among other conditions. To volunteer, log on to their website. 

Sri Lanka Pinnawala_01

If you’ve volunteered or visited an elephant sanctuary in Asia, we’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or email us at [email protected]