THE ELEPHANT JUNGLE SANCTUARY PHUKET: THE ETHICAL WAY TO INTERACT WITH GENTLE GIANTS
With locations in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pattaya, the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is a ethical and sustainable eco tourism project that is home to over 70 formerly mistreated elephants of the logging, entertainment and riding industry. The project was founded in July 2014 by Chiang Mai locals and members of the Karen hill-tribes, who were concerned about the welfare of elephants in Thailand.
The Sanctuary is a leading example of positive change. It aims to provide as many elephants as possible with good health and the freedom they need and deserve. They use their environmental responsible approach to raise awareness and educate the people of Thailand, and people around the world, about ethical elephant care and the conservation status of the Asian elephant.
After being picked up from our accommodation, we made our way along the coast, before heading down bumpy back roads to the main camp at the Phuket location. Although the site was relatively small and undeveloped, it was surrounded by dense forest, which I presume is to allow the elephants to roam freely. When we arrived at the Sanctuary, we were greeted by friendly staff who outlined the dos and don'ts of interacting with the elephants - they said to hold onto your phone as the elephants like to grab anything in sight! The first activity we took part in was feeding the elephants baskets of mixed fruit, including bananas and watermelon chunks. This was an overwhelming experience and one I'll never forget as they are really large and interactive creatures. Although they were extremely gentle, they were also super keen on helping themselves, often grabbing multiple pieces at once straight from the baskets before you even had the chance to hand feed them!
We were then able to wander around the site, grabbing a few snaps and learning about the background of each elephant. This felt like a totally natural experience, however, I did notice one of the elephants swaying which was not a good sign - I have previously read that this is due to the elephant feeling stressed and out of its natural habitat. This may be due to past traumatic experiences, or the fact that there was too many people around at once (this elephant also had a young with her as well). We then were able to bath with elephants in the mud and although this felt a little forced, they seemed to enjoy getting muddy and splashing around.
Overall, I had an incredible time at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and I love supporting eco and sustainable tourism programs. However, what I've realised since my visit, is that although wild sanctuaries and nature parks are the most ethical experiences you can have with these gentle giants, they should only be seen in the wild. The elephants currently at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary are still trained and told how to interact with humans, even though it seems like a more "natural experience". They have, however, been trained and abused for most of their life by humans and this is all they've ever known. It is fortunate that projects, such as the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, exist in order to give previously mistreated elephants and their young, a better chance of a happy life in captivity.
You can check out the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary at several locations across Thailand and also give them a follow on their Instagram @@elephantjunglesanctuary.