So far in Thailand we’ve taken tuk-tuk rides, slept on a sleeper train and paid about 50p for dinner, but the best part so far has to be our 48 hours at Elephants World.
Across Thailand you’ll find many elephant sanctuaries or companies which offer elephant experiences but the problem with many is that they are unethical. In Thailand, elephants are used for logging, trekking and entertainment – industries which can be harmful and abusive. They tie elephants up, ride them using large chairs which straighten their spine and force them to work in environments and situations which can injure them and make them very stressed.
Elephants World is NOT one of these places. Their slogan is that they work for the elephants and they don’t make the elephants work for them. They act as a happy retirement home for elephants who may have been physically or mentally abused, or injured. They help them to heal and look after them, giving them a happy life away from hard labour.
Each elephant also has a mahout – an elephant keeper who cares for the same elephant every day. They are the only ones who ride the elephants, but they don’t use any chairs or anything that can hurt the elephant’s back. They know their elephant inside and out, they know their behaviours and make sure they don’t get into any mischief!
At Elephants World, visitors can pick from a few different programs – we chose the 2 day programme which meant we got to stay the night there in a little hut and spend a second day with the elephants.
On our first day we fed the elephants a whole basket of fruit (by basket I mean one the size of a wheelbarrow)! We also helped to make some sticky rice balls with pumpkin and added nutritious ingredients for the older elephants who don’t have teeth. Through their lives elephants can grow about 6 sets of teeth but each set eventually falls out, so in old age they won’t have any left and need softer food (like the sticky rice balls) to make sure they’re getting enough of their necessary diet.
After lunch the elephants got to roam around, play and have fun in a mud bath. They use the mud to act as a natural sun cream as they can get sun burnt. This was a really sweet time to just watch them interact with each other. One of the younger ones had fun kicking around a tyre and picking up a hose! The cheeky elephant also kept his mahout busy as he tried to get to the stick rice balls we made earlier!
Later in the day our group went to the lake with the elephants so they could cool down and have a wash. Visitors were in charge of washing them so we had buckets and brooms to brush their skin with and get off all the mud!
On our second day we got some private time with a couple of elephants – a young one and her adopted mum. When there are young elephants without a mum, another older one tends to take their place. They follow the younger elephant around to make sure they’re okay. The elephants could relax much more during this time as it was less busy and they had more time to sit in the lake, cool down and enjoy having a wash!
If you’re wondering what an elephant feels like, it’s kind of like a tyre. Their skin is so thick, firm and rubbery but also rough. Where they are more wrinkly, like on their trunks, it is even rougher.
I’m so happy that a place like Elephants World exists – they treat the animals with care, give them happy lives with lots of food and fun. You can see that the staff there love the elephants, as do the mahouts and their priority is making sure the elephants are happy and healthy. Some elephants are still affected by their abusive past, but Elephants World continue to care for them and ensure they can live as happily and as stress-free as possible.
Since our time at Elephants World we’ve seen posters for other elephant ‘sanctuaries’, featuring photos of people riding them. We’ve also seen a baby elephant with very little space in the back of a truck heading somewhere I don’t think I want to know. It’s sad to see how elephants are used for labour and entertainment, without a care for their wellbeing. If you’re thinking about an elephant experience in Thailand, I urge you to search for ethical sanctuaries where the elephants are cared for properly.
I can feel myself getting really passionate about ethical elephant care and I wish I could do something about it. To start with, I can make sure people know that many industries abuse elephants but there are places like Elephants World who treat them much better. I will keep spreading the word and I hope that one day these amazing animals will be treated with love and care.
You can find Elephants World in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. They are also currently looking for donations to buy land that the elephants need. You can visit their website here: elephantsworld.org/