Elephant squeezing watermelon for food

How to See Elephants in an Ethical Way – Sanctuary Time

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Amanda Meeks, Founder – Instagram: @amandasoutofoffice


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I don’t know about you, but I knew the minute I booked my flight to southeast Asia that I absolutely had to do some sort of elephant encounter. I had only experienced elephants at the zoos and circuses in the US, and after watching An Apology to Elephants I realized if I were to see them abroad, I needed to do it in an ethical way. By the way, if you really want to cry but also learn about why you should avoid elephant-based entertainment, watch that documentary. You’ll fully sob.

So taking that knowledge and doing research, I realized that Thailand is full of elephant sanctuaries. However, not all of these were actually sanctuaries and were still more tourist traps that didn’t treat elephants as well as they should.

Since I was staying in Phuket, Thailand, I looked on the island and as luck would have it the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary was not too far from where I was staying. After doing research (looking on reviews on Instagram, TripAdvisor, and more), this location and its sister location the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai are truly ethical. And by truly ethical I mean they don’t do the following:

  • Let you bathe with the elephants
  • Let you ride the elephants

If a sanctuary you’re looking at does involve those two items specifically, it is not as ethical as it is claiming to be – if ethical at all. True sanctuaries let the elephants roam during the day and bathe, snack, etc., as they please. What we did get to do was the following:

  • Feed the elephants
  • Pet some of the elephants
  • Walk up to the areas they were foraging and learn

I learned so much in our 4 hour experience at this sanctuary and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was a wide range of emotions, from sheer sadness learning how they break the elephant’s spirit to teach it tricks in order to perform in circuses/similar tourist events worldwide to resounding joy finding out how resilient and powerful they are as creatures.

If you’re going to be in Phuket, you should absolutely consider spending a morning or afternoon with the elephants; you won’t regret a second.

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