How can I spend time with the elephants?
February 14, 2013 6:51 PM   Subscribe

The Thai elephant tourism industry advertises itself as pro-conservation, but according to reports, it is more often cruel and exploitative. Are there any legitimate opportunities to spend time among elephants in Thailand or elsewhere in a way that benefits them and fulfills my desire to see them up close? I am looking for information on short term visits, not long term volunteer gigs. Knowledgeable replies would be most appreciated. I've already done my own Internet searches on the matter.
posted by Wordwoman to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
here are 3 reputable elephant sanctuaries in thailand from matador
posted by changeling at 6:56 PM on February 14, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you, and not to threadsit, but this is not helpful, because I have no reason to believe that the author is credible.
posted by Wordwoman at 7:00 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a friend who's very active in elephant activism and is a member of PETA; she went to Thailand to work with elephants for a couple weeks with this program, and she recommends earsasia to find reputable programs.

She says she has somewhat mixed feelings after the trip because incredibly (even outrageously, given local resources) high standards of treatment for the elephants by the villagers were not necessarily up to the standards that she, as an American PETA activist, would prefer. She said she recognized it was an issue of ongoing education, economic resources, etc., but that it wasn't the joyful frolic she had dreamed of and she's had a lot more ambivalence about the experience than she expected to given that it was a long-time dream.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 PM on February 14, 2013

According to PETA, a sanctuary should be accredited by the GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries).
Here is the list of GFAS sanctuaries.
It looks like there is one in Tennessee.
posted by Snazzy67 at 7:30 PM on February 14, 2013

There's a rescue organization called the Save Elephant Foundation that has an Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand. They accept visitors as well as volunteers. A friend of mine has seen it, and says it's legit, for whatever that's worth to you. Also the founder of the park is on the advisory board of Elephant Aid International. NatGeo reports positively on it.

Most importantly, there's no riding or elephant tricks! Please don't go anywhere that does any of that bullshit.
posted by vasi at 8:35 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've also done a lot of research into this question in preparation for a trip to Thailand. I'm afraid that the answer is that there is no widely recognized authority certifying standards of care that are universally accepted by conservationists. A significant complicating factor is that even if everyone could agree on ideal non-exploitive treatment, you also have to try to remedy conditions that are horrifying. Some solutions that provide the most assistance to elephants in the most urgent need are not going to be an immediate transition to an ideal state. Most critically, interim solutions need to provide re-education to mahouts as well as provide for their continued employment. Early programs paid cash to mahouts to rescue elephants in poor conditions, which merely enabled them to obtain another elephant and start the cycle again. My sense is that the most broadly well-regarded programs are the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, a government-run program, and the previously mentioned Elephant Nature Park. Personally, I'm also satisfied with the efforts of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation and the Elephant Conservation Network, but some people will object to aspects of those last two. Unfortunately, I think this is a situation where you have to learn about the organizations you are considering and make your own conclusions. There isn't a clear certifying authority.
posted by Lame_username at 9:13 PM on February 14, 2013

Best answer: Just two weeks ago I visited the Elephant Nature Park mentioned by vasi above. They definitely are not cruel to the elephants in their care. During our daytrip we fed them out of hand, walked around and visited the various elephant "family" groups, watched them frolic in the mud during the first rainstorm of the year, and then bathed them in the river. They also tried to educate visitors about the bad practices of elephant industry in Thailand. It was a wonderful experience and I wouldn't hesitate to go back again.
posted by metaname at 9:22 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My friends went to Elephant Nature Park the other day, and wrote about their experiences.
posted by knile at 10:07 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've also been to the Elephant Nature Park run by Lek and can thoroughly recommend a day visit. It's a great place, a good cause and genuinely works against the bad practices of the Thai elephant tourism industry.

Plus, you'll get as close as you could possibly want - both feeding and bathing them.
posted by Hobo at 10:15 PM on February 14, 2013

Another word for Elephant Nature Park -- a very thoughtful, animal-centric friend of mine volunteered there and said it was a good place.
posted by feets at 2:19 AM on February 15, 2013

Some friends of mine spent a bunch of time at Elephant Nature Park and ended up getting involved with the organization. Here is their first visit there which started out being a day and ended up being two months and a long term relationship with the sanctuary (they run the website).

(Other posts relating to their time in Thailand)
posted by sciencegeek at 4:26 AM on February 15, 2013

Just wanted to point out that the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee is not open to the public.
posted by jquinby at 6:49 AM on February 15, 2013

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