Over the past several years, wildlife tourism has grown to become a real point of focus for many biologically diverse countries such as India, Thailand, and Cambodia. For a growing number of people, seeing animals through wildlife documentaries and at zoos is not enough anymore, prompting them to head out to these exotic countries for a firsthand experience of the culture, cuisine, and creatures that will not be easily forgotten. The money that goes into this industry has helped governments make sure that their natural resources and tourist attractions remain as beautiful today as it will be for future generations.
However, nature tourism isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. The plants and animals that form the delicate ecosystems throughout Central and Southeast Asian countries are constantly under attack by loggers and poachers alike, and despite the efforts of first- and third-party wildlife conservationists, it is so far a losing battle. Elephants in particular are the animals that have to deal with systematic abuse and oppression by abusive
Although you, the tourist, have neither the time nor determination to stand on the front lines of protecting the beauties of nature, you can still do your part by “voting with your wallet” – that is, to support nature tourism that prioritises the ethical and humane treatment of the animals they employ. Through your support, these elephant sanctuaries are able to purchase and rescue elephants from abusive elephant tamers, and as more and more people are becoming aware of the treatment of elephants by these tamers, they will inevitably be run out of business.
But how do you know which elephant sanctuaries are humane and which are not? Responsible Travel has spent the last few years doing research on various elephant sanctuaries across Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and even in Africa to find out just that. Below is a quick rundown of their findings:
- Elephant Valley Project – In operation since 2006, the Elephant Valley Project is the eco-tourism arm of the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment, a registered NGO in Mondulkiri, Cambodia, which aims to support the local community by providing livelihood opportunities through the care of the elephants and their habitats in the area.
- Mahouts Elephant Foundation – This UK-based charity foundation is primarily concerned with improving the lives of Asian elephants in Thailand. The main projects of the Mahouts Elephant Foundation include spreading awareness to the general public of the treatment and suffering of elephants under their abusive masters through active participation in the tourism industry; a field research programme for students to gain firsthand experience of elephant conservation in critical areas; and the rehabilitation and release of wild elephants back into their native habitats through their “Walking Elephants Home” project, which has already achieved success through the release of two elephants back into the forests of Thailand in 2015.
- Elephant Conservation and Care Centre – Located in Mathura, India, the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre is one of the many projects of Wildlife SOS, a non-profit organisation dedicated to caring for and maintaining the diverse wildlife of India. This facility houses rescued elephants that have been abused by their previous masters, with the aim of providing them with a large, safe environment to live out the rest of their lives in comfort and ease.
Why These Sanctuaries?
As of the publishing of this article, Responsible Travel has listed down 19 sanctuaries that they support. These sanctuaries were chosen as they place the health and well-being of the elephants as their first priority. To reinforce this policy, tourist visits to these sanctuaries strictly prohibit elephant rides and performances, and will instead offer simpler, more direct interactions between you and the elephants, such as short hikes and river or mud baths. Elephants are very much unlike animals like, say, sea lions, in that training them is much more difficult. It is because of this that certain practices, such as phajaan or “crushing” in Thailand, is so widespread – in the minds of abusive mahouts, crushing the elephant’s spirit through physical and psychological trauma is the quickest and most effective way to get the animal to be submissive.
If you are looking to travel to Central or Southeast Asia to experience getting up close and personal with elephants, you will want to look into visiting one of the elephant sanctuaries that are marked as humane. The Responsible Travel list is a good place to start.