Our Recommendations

Although we have not visited every elephant site in Thailand we have a lot of experience.  I have been here and involved since 2004 and our students also have a lot of experience as well.  We do a lot of eco trips to work with elephants, but we always try to support organizations we believe are doing good work, or at least moving in the right direction.  From our experience so far we can only recommend these below.  If you know of others that are great please let us know and we will check it out.  Please understand that we do NOT have any financial connections to these places.  However, some of them have become our friends over the years because of our great experiences there.  We do sometimes raise money for them to help them help elephants.  Our goal is to help animals; not make money.  One of the BIGGEST thing to look for now is the method of training.  If they are still using the old pain and punishment model I would not support them.  If they are using the target training techniques that is a great step in the right direction.  Of course there is more to look for, but that is a big one.  Our recommendations are in no particular order.

Our recommendations will always come back to these basic Qualities of Animal Welfare.  In order for proper animal welfare to be in place it needs to have:


  1. Good feeding - absence of thirst or hunger

  2. Good housing - a properly heated, comfortable and easy moving space

  3. Good health - absence of sickness or disease

  4. Appropriate behavior - freedom to do and think what it wants

  5. Protection from fear and distress - a safe, enjoyable place



ElephantsWorld

Elephant World

Province:  Kanchanaburi.  
About 2-3 hours from Bangkok.

Positives:
  • It's a sanctuary for old, ill, abused and rescued elephants.
  • Their motto is: "We work for the elephants, not the elephants for us."
  • You can enjoy feeding, bathing, and up-close experiences with the elephants.  They will educate you on elephant issues, you can help plant and cut banana trees for food, cleaning the fruit, etc.
  • Elephants have space, shade, enrichment and time to be an elephant.
  • Their male elephants search for their own mahouts, but the females are less picky about who their mahout is thus the staff might pick the mahout. 
  • Friendly staff, including volunteers, who really care for the animals.
  • Beautiful area with trees and a river for swimming.  Also have cottages for overnight guests. 

Negatives:
  • Some mahouts still carry the hook.  Although in theory, we are apposed to the hooks, we do understand some mahouts just feel safer with them.  I have never seen a mahout there actually use it to hit the elephant or mistreat them.
  • Animals are sometimes chained up at night to keep them separated from each other for safety reasons since the mahouts are not there at night.
  • When we asked the manager, Agnes, about the hooks and chains.  Here is her answer:  "We use the hooks because the elephants are coming from different parts of Thailand and do not always get a long with each other. So it is for the safety of the elephants, as well as, of the visitors and mahouts. Normally elephants live in families with baby's, but because we have no babies bonding is difficult. This is also why some of our elephants are chained." 
Programs offered:
  • 1 night/2days 
  • Mahout program for 1 week
  • Volunteer program for 1 week
  • Volunteer for 1 month
  • Forest program to observe the wild animals

Elephant Nature Park  

The Elephant Whisperer

Province: Chiang Mai
Northern Thailand.  Usually an overnight train or 45 minute flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Positives:
  • This place has become legendary, and as far as I know, the original place to use the 'elephant friendly' methods.  The founder, khun Lek, is just an amazing woman with a heart of gold who has done so much for elephants.  We need more like her.  You will be inspired!
  • Most of the elephants were rescued from a horrible life and/or very serious injuries.  However, a few babies have actually been born there!
  • You can enjoy feeding, bathing, and up-close experiences with the elephants.

    Many projects by Lek

  • Beautiful area with open spaces, a nice river, and hills in the background. 
  • No chaining during the day (not sure about night) and no hooks.
  • Elephants choose their mahout, not the other way around.  That is cool.
  • Elephants have a lot of roaming space, shade, and free time to be an elephant.
  • Elephants here have become more like a family with all kinds of group dynamics and inspirational stories of how they work together and help each other.
  • Friendly staff, including volunteers, who really care for the animals.
  • ENP does a lot of other projects to help elephants in other parts of Thailand and even Cambodia.
  • ENP also does things to help the community and other animals such as cows and and dogs as well.
Negatives:
  • Not much.  Possibly the price, but it's worth it.  They are popular and can often be sold out and tickets can be hard to get.  Also remember, that other places need support as well.

Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation

Province: Chiang Rai
Northern Thailand.  45 minute flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai.  It is located at the Anantara hotel.
Positives:
  • The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF), was set up in 2006 to improve the plight of Thailand’s elephants, and has since been diversified to include welfare projects that incorporate broader philanthropic and cultural objectives with unprecedented success. 
  • What is different is GTAEF doesn't buy or own it's elephants.  It employs the mahout and takes care of the whole family.  Not owning the elephants brings some advantages as they are not fuelling the elephant trade, but the downside is if the relationship goes south with the owner, the owner can take the elephant away.  
  • Over 30 elephants have been rescued from Thailand’s city streets, accompanied by their entire mahout family and provided with a place to rest and grow. English lessons are arranged for the mahouts and their wives, education is made available for their children, and a silk worm business provides the wives with 100% of the profits made from the sales of their wares at the resort boutique.
  • GTAEF cooperates with the Thai government and other organisations in projects including supporting research and clinics using elephants in therapy sessions for children living with autism; helping equip the first elephant hospital in Krabi in the southern part of Thailand and donating a gantry to help lame elephants stand and a purpose built elephant ambulance to the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC).
  • GTAEF have also built the world’s only research facility dedicated to scientifically researching elephant intelligence and behaviour.  See Think Elephant  http://thinkelephants.org for amazing videos of testing elephant intelligence.
  • Along with their parent company, Minor International, & working through international partners and the Cambodian Government GTAEF has, since 2013, funded the protection of an 18,000 hectare elephant corridor of standing forest in the Cardamom Mountains - since protection the wildlife has become visible and wild elephants started using the forest again.
  • I feel the biggest contribution GTAEF have done is they brought in Dr. Gerardo Martinez, a world renowned expert in animal training, and Chief of Animal Behavioral Management Department and Supervisor of African and Asian Elephants.  He came to teach the Target Training method, not only to their staff, but to offer workshops to train mahouts at other elephant camps as well.  This is great because it means the more this method is spread the less animals will have to suffer through the pain and punishment method.  Please see full article here. 
  • Medical facilities are excellent.
  • They strongly encourage the mahouts to exercise the elephant daily.
  • They are very knowledgable about the reality of elephants in Thailand and meeting with them changed my way of thinking a lot and opened me up to knowledge I didn't have before.
Negatives:  
  • Hooks and chains are there.  However, abusing an elephant is certainly not supported.  They currently use the long chain method when needed to allow elephants to socialize.  They are looking to move away from chains and having a large fenced roaming area.
  • Not owning the elephants means they have to walk a fine line with the owner and/or mahout.  While, they may not agree with some of the things a mahout does, they have to be careful about how to approach it as making the situation worse could lead to the mahout deciding to take the elephant somewhere else where life is not as good.
  • Not a negative, but may not suit your travel needs.  That is, their elephant experience is part of a whole package with their hotel, Anantara.  It is awesome, if you can afford it.

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT)
Province: Petchburi
About 2.5 hours south of Bangkok.  WFFT's focus is on rescuing all kinds of wildlife from places where they are maltreated and/or neglected, and help them to spend the rest of their lives in a sanctuary as close to the natural environment as possible with the best possible care.  Here you will see much more than elephants.  It is pretty amazing.  
Positives:  
  • WFFT rescues many animals and tries to improve their life.
  • WFFT is at the forefront of animals issues in Thailand, working with Department of National Parks and lawmakers to try to improve the situation.
  • If there is an injustice, WFFT is there fighting for the animal.
  • A visit here will educate you on much more than just elephants.  You will learn about how tourism done wrong can have dramatic effects on all kinds of species.  I highly recommend this place.
  • According to founder, Edwin Wiek, they have 12 elephants and are the only completely chain free elephant center in Thailand.
Negatives:
  • I have not been there for a few years so I cannot comment on the situation for myself.  I can't wait to go again.
  • No fault of WFFT, but it would be great to see some of these animals leaving the sanctuary and returning to the wild.  Hopefully, the situation will be right someday to do this.


Khao Yai National Park

Wild elephants of Khao Yai

Province: Mainly in Nakon Ratchasima
Very large and stunning national park about 2 hours from Bangkok.

Positives:
  • Here you get to see elephants the way there should be seen... in the WILD!
  • Whole park is beautiful with lots to see and do.
  • A lot of wildlife such as various birds, gibbons, monkeys, deer, gwar, snakes, porcupine, and more.
Negatives:
  • You may not see anything at all.  I went about 10 times and only saw proof of wild elephants, but not an actual elephant.  That is until the last time when our car was stopped by a herd of 5 elephants and we waited 45 minutes watching them eat before we could pass.
  • Although in the wild is better for the animal, you won't get that interactive experience that you can get at the above places.

Kuiburi National Park
Province: Prachuap Khiri Khan
About 3 hours drive south of Bangkok.  Another great place to see elephants in the wild along with other wildlife.



Bring the Elephant Home foundation

We work with BTEH a lot and plan many eco trips with them.  You can see them in our videos.  They don't have their own elephant centre, but work to improve other places.  They also do a lot to help wild elephants in human/elephant conflict zones.  They are a great group to work with.
 

Save Elephant Foundation 

YouTube Video


Located in North-Eastern Thailand, Surin has over 200 elephants registered in the province. Unfortunately most of these elephants are kept chained up in captivity. Save Elephant Foundation is working on the Surin project. This projects is focusing on improving the l
iving conditions of captive elephants, and provide their owners with alternative work. Volunteers get to walk alongside elephants and provide to workforce needed to harvest food , and build shaded areas for the elephants. 













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