Elephants have played an important part in Thailand’s history and today the Thai elephant, also known as “Chang Thai” in Thailand, remains an enduring symbol of Thailand and its culture. In the past, they were used in warfare, and as beasts of burden in the logging industry. Today, they still play an important role in agriculture in Southeast Asia.
In 1900, the number of elephants in Thailand was estimated to be around 100,000 but just over a century later, that figure had been dramatically reduced to around 3,000 – 4,000 making the Asian Elephant an endangered species. Elephants were officially placed on the endangered species list in 1976 by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
These days, a great deal of effort is being put into the preservation of these magnificent creatures. Elephant sanctuaries have popped up all over Thailand in order to preserve the Asian elephant population in Southeast Asia as well as to rehabilitate injured elephants and to educate those interested in helping the elephant species thrive.
The Thai Elephant Conservation Center, or TECC, cares for more than 50 Asian elephants in a beautiful forest located near the well-travelled Chiang Mai. The TECC is known for its pioneering work in conservation and science. This is Thailand’s only government owned elephant sanctuary and prides itself on being affordable and accessible to both tourists and local Thai school children and families. The TECC is often praised for its relaxed and non-commercial atmosphere. Many of the programs offered here put an emphasis on learning how to interact with an elephant as the mahouts do. A mahout, or elephant handler, are those trained and educated to care for elephants.
Another reputable sanctuary is, the Elephant Nature Park. This is a rescue and rehab center for elephants, where one can feed and bathe the animals, plus you can learn some history about each elephant’s past. The most exciting part is you can even stay overnight in one of their hut accommodations.
Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary is another exemplary facility to visit if interested in elephant conservation. BLES is a non-profit organization entirely dependent on funds generated by visitors and donations from foundations, agencies and individuals. BLES describes a visit to its camp as a hands-on experience where one can gather food, walk an elephant to release sites, scrub the elephants down as well as observe the animals in an indigenous setting. BLES intentionally keeps its guest numbers low for the benefit of both the elephants as well as the visitors.
Regardless of which facility you and your group choose to visit, there are things you should keep in mind to ensure you – and more importantly – the elephants, have an enjoyable and responsible time.
When bathing the elephants, you should forget about staying dry. You might as well immerse yourself completely in the experience to fully enjoy it. You’ll have more fun playing in the water with the elephants than from watching outside of it, so come prepared. Bring swim trunks, sunscreen, an extra set of clothes, whatever it is you think you’ll need during or after making a splash with these delightful creatures.
Another suggestion I have is to bring bananas. And plenty of them. They are cheap and plentiful in Thailand, and the elephants happen to be quite fond of them. A wide stance is suggested when feeding your new elephant friend as they’re known to enthusiastically search visitors for food with their powerful trunks. It’s also recommended that you split the bananas in two, so as to make the feeding experience last longer. And don’t bother peeling the bananas, the elephants just eat them whole.
Not all elephant sanctuaries offer the opportunity to ride an elephant. If you should choose to do so, make sure you take the elephant’s comfort into account. It’ll be a much more enjoyable experience to learn to ride an elephant at a sanctuary where single, bareback riding is taught.
Regardless of which elephant sanctuary you should choose to visit, it’s always a good idea to research the establishments you might be visiting. Making an informed decision is one of the ways we can continue the efforts to conserve and rehabilitate these revered and majestic animals. If elephants never forget, they’ll likely remember your kindness and generosity!
If you’re looking to learn more about volunteer opportunities to work with elephants in Thailand, check out the Dream Jobbing contest happening right now. One person will be chosen to win a volunteer trip to Thailand to work with these amazing creatures. They will get to visit elephant camps located in different regions of Thailand, assisting with hands on care for elephants and the development of sustainable businesses to support responsible elephant tourism. The entry period has already passed, but you can still vote on your favorites to pick the final winner, and follow along with the journey! Visit http://dreamjobbing.com/dreamjobs/Thailand