ElephantsWorld in Kanchanaburi (Thailand) is doing a good job with rescuing elephants, treating them pretty good and educating the masses. This place offers a sanctuary for rescued elephants (and some other animals) and where the visitors help the staff to give these giants a lovely day. But as a critical person, striving for a world were animals aren’t harmed nor used, I do have some side-notes and points you should be aware of before you visit or volunteer.
This post will be focusing on the day-program. In my other post I wrote about my month of volunteering at ElephantsWorld (EW). Which was an amazing experience overall but I did experienced some things you might want to read if you’re thinking about emerging yourself in this world for a full month or more, especially when you’re a vegan. Read this other post on the abuse and use of elephants in Thailand (link coming) and why you should go to a sanctuary or wild spotting, and nowhere else :)
In short and for those that doesn’t know the organization yet:
“ElephantsWorld was founded in 2008 and is a sanctuary for sick, old, disabled, abused and rescued elephants, who will receive the rest and joy that they deserve. They can enjoy themselves in their own natural environment here until their last breath.
At ElephantsWorld we work for the elephants, instead of them for us! As a visitor you get to enjoy very memorable experience with these beautiful animals. You can help us with taking care of them by feeding them, gathering food and bathing them.”
THE DAY PROGRAM
An EW-taxi will pick you up wherever you stay (around Kanchanaburi). When you arrive, a couple of volunteers will tell you all about the sanctuary and where all the elephants come from. You’ll then give the elephants their morning snack, which is a big basket filled with fruits such as banana’s, pineapple’s, watermelon, papaya’s etc. Although the variety might change throughout the week and every elephant will have his or her preferences. And no, don’t try stealing some of this delicious fruit for yourself, because an elephant will never forget!
After this you can see the elephants drink and bath, you might help cleaning them, preparing sticky rice balls as food for the old elephants without teeth, help cutting banana trees or planting crops. The program will be a bit different per group (and per season) since a lot of stuff has to happen. But every group is guaranteed with enough quality time among the wonderful elephants! After the morning activities you can have a plentiful and tasty lunch.
VEGAN FOOD (OR NOT)
Don’t worry about only preparing the elephants their food and starving yourself. ElephantsWorld provides a delicious lunch, buffet-style with plenty of options. Do keep in mind that the buffet isn’t vegan, not even vegetarian (about one-third or half of it is vegan, depending on the usage of eggs that day). But you will probably still end up with a plate full of amazing Thai(-inspired) vegan food.
Although the food might be tasty, I do want to write more about food at animal-sanctuaries in general. To me it seems odd and as a double standard to offer animals in forms of food at an animal-sanctuary where we give (some) animals a wonderful life. But I found out soon enough that even for most people working at an animal sanctuary, not all animals were the same. I was naively under the impression that people here couldn’t be so conditioned by our Western norm nor had any blind spots when it comes to animal-ethics.
Both visitors and volunteers would be in immeasurable disgust if we would have offered them (baby)elephant- or dogmeat, but offering other animals such as pigs, cows and chickens seemed perfectly fine. But I’m glad that some sanctuaries stick to their core morals and only offer vegetarian (or even all-vegan) food such as ElephantNaturePark in Chiang Mai and Elephant Sanctuary Cambodia.
Instead of only bashing the current system I wrote down some possible changes and tips for places like this. You can find them at the bottom of my volunteering-post.
So after getting your hands dirty, having a tasty lunch and helping the volunteers taking care for the elephants, there are another two activities; bathing with the big elephants while being in the water yourself (a great way to cool off!) and feeding them their final snack-basket. Do keep in mind that this bathing-time still incorporates sitting on the elephant for most people. This activity is done in the water and thus the weight will be experienced less, and it is (and should be) only one person on it’s shoulder-/neck-area (so no heavy chairs on their fragile backs!). And although most visitors are aware of the fact that these chair-rides are horrible and thus come to a sanctuary, they do enjoy this ‘elephant-friendly’ riding part big time. But every once in a while there were visitors refusing to be on an elephant, if you don’t want to do this either you can ask for a bucket and coconut-brush and wash the elephant from the ground. A bonus; you can actually look the elephant in her eye! Be aware that not all volunteers will understand your choice and might come forward with a list of arguments why in this case it’s not so bad; do what feels right for you and make a proper statement when you feel like it.
When the bathing is finished you get to give the last basket of fruit and you can enjoy some lemonade and clean yourself up if you’d like. Receive a token of gratitude and jump in the taxi to be brought back to your place!
If you rather support sanctuaries which doesn’t offer (‘animal friendlier’) elephant rides, check out the other sanctuaries at the bottom of the post.
VOLUNTEER AT ELEPHANTSWORLD
For a full month I volunteered at ElephantsWorld, it was wonderful to live close to many amazing beings, gaining lots of new knowledge and meeting some nice people, all while guiding the varied visitors. Doing a day-program first can be a perfect way to see for yourself if the sanctuary and staff seems nice to you. Do read about my experience to get a vegan’s perspective on this opportunity. Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions!
SO SHOULD YOU VISIT?
Discouraging the existence or visiting of sanctuaries, with flaws or not, is the last thing I want to do. Although excusing organizations and practices like the above simply because they are “better than the norm”, or because it’s culture, are non-arguments in my opinion. We can always strive for better and lead an example! See for yourself if their menu-choices and riding-activity is too much of a no-go. Maybe see your visit as an opportunity to learn more about elephants and feel free to share your perspective among the group of volunteers: critical visitors most of the time triggered a staff-meeting and sometimes even planted a seed for positive change.
If you feel like going; positively encourage change, enjoy the herd of amazing elephants and feel free to give some love towards the mostly ignored and underrated other animals like the water buffaloes, wild boars, sheep, cows, the cats and lots of dogs. Feel free to share your experience with me, the organization changes pretty quickly so I would love to know how EW and the animals are doing at the moment.
GO INTO THE WILD
If you truly wish to see elephants in their natural habitat and showing natural behavior, try to go to a national park and join a ranger for some wild elephant spotting. If this gets popular, the national parks might expand and protection reinforced. Check out all the Thai National Parks, Wild Elephant Watching near Kui Buri , spot wild elephants in Khao Yai park (Read about MostlyAmelie’s experience) and check out the Forest Program of EW.
If you’d prefer a sanctuary, check out these other sanctuaries as well. Some offer a vegetarian buffet, are a bit smaller (or bigger) and doesn’t offer any type of elephant rides.
– Elephant Nature Park + Tripadvisor Read about ENP at the blog of the traveling vegan couple MindfulWanderlust.
– Boon Lott + Tripadvisor
– Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand + Legit review
Website Elephantsworld: http://www.elephantsworld.org
Take care everyone and enjoy your travels! <3