There is an extremely responsible and ethical alternative to riding elephants in Thailand. No, I’m not referring to elephant nature park. Although they are a legitimate sanctuary, they aren’t the only one. Since last April, the Elephant Retirement Park has been housing and caring for former work elephants. Located about an hour from Chiang Mai, the operation is much smaller, only housing 6 elephants currently. There is absolutely no riding on the elephants. They don’t use bull hooks, which many people insist are necessary to make these majestic creatures “obey.” We were shown this is simply not the case.
- Baby Lanna being clumsy- the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!
These two were the only ones separated from the group because the baby could get crushed and the mother is still extremely protective. However, they were very trusting of humans which is beautiful.
We walk about a mile up the road to the sanctuary itself. After hearing each elephants back-story and details of the history of elephants protected status, we were able to meet them and feed them. Elephants are extremely sensitive creatures- they can die from broken hearts just like humans. So, you must meet them and earn their trust before playing.
After the meeting and feeding, we had lunch.
All you can eat Thai food, water, and tea/coffee.
We discussed more how to approach the beautiful creatures and avoid injury before swimming / bathing them. Then, we went out in the pouring rain and played.
We helped them cool down with mud. Had some fun, and then bathed them.
Without any hooks or harsh commands, the elephants honestly loved the attention. They weren’t made to do any tricks at all, and all the visitors were respectful.
That night, Tara and I went to the owners house and had dinner. We discussed that they are doing okay but without government funding, money is tight. I don’t even think they have a donation option online, so I’m setting one up. Medicine is the main thing they are worried about.
Not only should you research the park, and potentially donate, but if you have the chance to visit as an alternative to Elephant Nature Park, you should! The small scale offers more room and attention for each elephant from the handlers. They are given water to play in, bananas, sugar cane, and so much love. I fell in love with the Elephant Retirement Park and will be returning to volunteer 😊
* you shouldn’t ride an elephant because it can seriously injure them. They are not designed to be ridden. If you notice, their backs have a hump, unlike horses which are curved and are able to hold riders. Elephants strength comes from pulling and pushing with their trunks and strong legs. Not the back!