I will never forget the day that I was chatting in a group about all things Thailand, and someone dropped a link about elephant riding. Did you know it’s bad for the elephants? Yeah, me either. *Insert eye roll* I didn’t even get past the first paragraph of the article before knowing that I wouldn’t be getting any Instagram worthy shots of me trekking through the jungle atop one of these majestic beasts.
I like to think I’m a good human, and a good human wouldn’t put another creature in danger.
To sum up that entire article, elephants backs are not the same as a camel or horse. They aren’t meant to carry heavy loads, or any load for that matter. They especially shouldn’t have any type of contraption attached to their backs to chauffeur lazy people around. It just is what it is. They’re also overworked for entire days before having to do it all over again the next day. Soon after I discovered this, I found the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary- Phuket.
It’s cliche to say, but EJS is often imitated and has yet to be duplicated. There are several other companies throwing “sanctuary” at the end of their name and masquerading as such. Be sure to do your homework before booking a visit to an elephant sanctuary. Also, if it means anything to you, specifically look for places that are “NO RIDE.”
I luckily visited toward the end of “low season,” i.e. not many tourists. Also of note is that the Phuket sanctuary has only four elephants as opposed to the dozens at the Chiang Mai sanctuary. It was perfect for the three of us.
Upon arrival at the sanctuary we took a minute to sit and learn about the elephants and the sanctuary. By we, I mean the only other two people during my afternoon trip, Freddie and Rose. After learning about things such as why elephants shouldn’t be ridden, that elephants are pregnant for about two years, and how these particular elephants came to be at the sanctuary, we were put to work. First on the itinerary was prepping food for the elephants. We cut pineapples, separated bananas from the branch, and rolled rice balls packed with supplemental food for the “grandma” elephant. While I didn’t expect to be doing manual labor I was just happy that it was something the staff didn’t have to do. It was nice taking work off of the caregivers plates.
Next it was time to meet the elephants for the first time. We’d only passed them on the way in and didn’t really get up close. We walked the food over to them and actually hand fed them everything we prepared. It was crazy to see that they had different appetites and tastes. The supplemental food could only go to Grandma. Natalie liked the green, unripened bananas and no one else. The baby was still nursing but to include him, we fed him peeled bananas every now and then. If memory serves me correctly, the bigger kid didn’t really like pineapple and Natalie couldn’t even eat pineapple since she was nursing and the baby couldn’t have any. There’s so much to remember but luckily it was easy to know who didn’t like what. They simply spit it out.
After feeding the elephants we went back to change into our swimsuits because it was time for a mud bath. This sounds fun until you’re crotch deep in mud and sinking like it’s quicksand. Not to mention when Natalie decided to bless us with a #1 and #2 right there. What was fun was seeing how much fun the baby was having. He literally submerged himself in mud because he was so happy. I don’t even know how he was able to see. After the mud bath we took a show. Yes, elephants included.
Now it was time for the humans to shower and then time for lunch! If I’d known I’d be getting a cooking lesson here I would’ve skipped Pantawan. Okay, not really. We made pad thai before the staff brought out a bunch of other local dished. Keep in mind that pad thai seems to be made differently all around Thailand, so it won’t taste or look anything like the pad thai in Bangkok. There was plenty of food to go around and we all sat around eating and talking before it was time to go.
Saying goodbye to our new friends was actually bittersweet. I know animals have their own personalities but I never really think about it outside of domestic animals such as cats as dogs. Each elephant has a mahout, a caregiver that lives with them their entire lives and trains them. I often wonder how much of an effect they have on the elephants personality and habits. I also wonder how many elephants outlive their Mahout’s, seeing as how their lifespan is so long. But I guess I can learn more about that the next time I visit Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, whenever that may be.