Elephant sanctuaries in South East Asia
Honestly, I am tired of seeing people treating elephants in Asia as if they only were a tourist attraction, but I am also sick and tired to hear some other people saying “An elephant should be in the wild, so I will never go to an elephant sanctuary in Asia”…I totally understand their point, but the truth is, if you ignore domestic elephants in Asia, then you ignore half of this specie and its history.
It has been thousands of years that men work with elephants in Asia. Elephants are sacred animals, companions, but also an incredible workforce, who was used for the logging industry in Laos and more generally in South-East Asia. So we were using those gentle giants to carry precious wood through the jungle, destroying their natural habitat in the meantime.
Today we count about 400 remaining wild elephants in Laos, and 450 domesticated elephants. And these guys just can’t be released in the wild, it is not that easy. Their habitat is disappearing, and as social animals, they need their herd to survive.
So yes, for those elephants and their mahouts (men who traditionally take care of them), we need to find a proper retraining…especially when we know the daily cost to take care of these animals properly. This is why elephant sanctuaries in Asia might just be the perfect solution, as long as it is done ethically.
A weekend at the Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, Laos
Living in Laos and working for a travel agency gives you some opportunities to visit amawing places that you would never have seen otherwise! This is how I got to discover the Elephant Conservation Center, in Sayaboury, close to the Thai border, 2 hours drive from Luang Prabang. Once we arrived, a boat came to pick us up, to cross the beautiful lake separating the town and the Elephant Conservation Center. We found ourselves immersed in a lush green jungle with this amazing feeling to be at the edge of the world.
We spent two days to observe elephants bathing, bonding with each other…we learned so much about them and about the reasons why they are now an endangered specie in Laos. Two days out of time, in the jungle, with an amazing team leading this project!
The Elephant Conservation Center mission
The ECC has the ambition to create a large protection area for elephants in Laos, and on a more global scale, to encourage the elephant conservation in Asia, with programs to educate the locals and travelers. Here, you are present for the elephants, the elephants are not here for you! The top priority is to ensure their well-being while educating visitors about their history, their diet, their habits…and of course about the possible ways to keep those beautiful mammals in Laos. The Elephant Conservation Center even has a breeding program, and it has been a few months that a baby is on the making…but we will have to wait more than 20 months before seeing its face!
How can you know if an elephant sanctuary in Asia is ethical?
Elephants need to walk
In its natural habitat, the elephant can walk 25 up to 70 km a day. They need this exercise, and its a mean to find enough diversified food in the jungle. So don’t hesitate to ask the daily routine of an elephant in a sanctuary…at least you will be aware of this.
Of course, the best elephants sanctuaries in Asia only propose walks with elephants and no riding. However, riding an elephant in the traditional way ( on his neck just behind his ears), don’t cause injuries, as long as it is not all day long. Please don’t judge too quickly the elephants’ sanctuaries in Asia which offer elephants bare riding ( without the basket of course) …taking care of elephants costs a lot of money and tourists WANT to ride them. If everyone refused to ride elephants, then no elephant camp would offer this activity.
This is no big news, elephants spend the most of their day EATING…but more than the quantity, it is also the variety of their diet that matters for them to be healthy: an elephant constantly fed with bananas from tourists might have chances to get digestive troubles.
Behavior and socialization
It is quite easy to see if an elephant has a normal behavior or not. A healthy elephant is constantly swiping its tail and whipping its ears. An elephant who doesn’t move at all is probably sick, as well as an elephant who is constantly swinging in its legs from one side to the other is probably under a lot of stress.
List of ethical elephant sanctuaries in Asia