Top ethical elephant sanctuaries Chiang Mai
Northern Thailand is elephant country. In the past, the animals were trained and worked in the lumber industry and on public works. Now, these elephants and their descendants are retired and given a better life in the elephant sanctuaries of the Chiang Mai region. However, some tours still offer elephant riding. Some parks have been turned into real tourist factories, large operations that serve the many tourists that visit each day. We value the smaller sanctuaries that give the elephants all the room to move around, and that only exposes them to small groups of visitors.
What makes an elephant sanctuary?
The bottom line is the respect with which the animals are treated. At a real elephant sanctuary, nobody rides the elephants, and the elephants are not forcibly made to do anything. They have the freedom to move around and have plenty of room to do so. The elephants are cared for and receive adequate medical treatment when they develop a health problem. Of course, there is no prodding, use of hooks, or hitting the elephants. The mahout is the traditional elephant trainer: mahout means elephant 'rider' or 'keeper,' but in sanctuaries, the meaning of 'caretaker'; is more appropriate.
1: Never Forget Elephant Foundation
It is the goal of Never Forget Elephant Foundation to educate tourists and global supporters on the problems captive elephants face today in Thailand and how we can live in a way at home that positively impacts the well being of elephants and the health of our planet. Through this model, we create a tide of positive change that will impact the future of captive Asian elephants.
The Never Forget Elephant Foundation was founded in early 2019 by Ava Lalancette, who is from Seattle, together with a team of passionate individuals from around the world.
In their work, they strive to:
Provide mental, physical and environmental sanctuary for elephants that have been used for entertainment purposes and logging
Connect with the Karen Hill Tribe people at the local level, learn about the challenges they face through owning their elephants and inspire each other to make changes that improve the lives of Asian elephants and the global community as a whole
Build a diverse and enlightened network of worldwide supporters who want to make a difference in Asian elephant welfare through a quality educational visitor experience
Where: Omkoi District
What: 1 week program
2: Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary
If you want to have a unique experience of hiking in the forest to find the elephants everyday and observe their natural behaviours in their home environment, then you have found the right place. Come and join us for the experience of a lifetime. Volunteers and visitors must be physically fit to hike everyday up and down mountains to get to the elephants. In our sanctuary, you can see exactly where your funds and going and how they are benefiting our sanctuary, our elephants and our community.
Volunteers and visitors are expected to wake up early in the morning and be prepared for a long hike into the forest. Hikes will usually return to the village around early afternoon but the day doesn’t end there. Volunteers and visitors will have the opportunity to participate in teaching English at the school, to the homestays and to the mahouts as well receiving education about elephants in Asia and learning the local tribal language and culture. We also have a number of add-ons you can choose such as relaxing with a thai massage or learning how to basket weave.
Volunteers and Visitors can stay with us for anything from 2 days to 3 months. Although we recommend at least a week to get the full experience of our sanctuary. Students who wish to carry out research for their studies are also welcome.
Our Village & Accommodation
Our project is set amongst the rolling hills of Northern Thailand in a Karen Hill Tribe village. It is surrounded by forest that is perfect for our elephants to forage in.
The Karen Hill Tribe are originally from Myanmar but they migrated to Thailand during the civil wars many generations ago in search of a better life. Due to this they have their own language and culture, which volunteers will have the opportunity to learn and experience. They are keen weavers and are well known in Thailand for their elephant keeping. They make an income from their elephants and working the fields, mainly growing rice and corn using rotational slash and burn. Volunteers will have the opportunity to learn more first hand about their culture and even help out with the community when required.
Our accommodation is very simple but comfortable. Volunteers and guests will be staying with a host family in a homestay where you will be provided with your own room that will consist of a mattress on the floor, a mosquito net and a bathroom with a cold shower (perfect for after a hike!). All homestays vary in shapes and sizes depending on the homestay allocated, some with squat toilets and some with western. Homestays will provide a Thai packed lunch and dinner in their home whereas a basic western breakfast will be provided at our communal base hut where our visitors/volunteers hang out during free time.
Where: 109/14 Moo. 2, Tanpao, Sankampheang, Chiang Mai
What: 2 days: 5,000 thb; 3 days: 7,000 thb; 1 week: 15,000 thb; enquire about internships 8-12 weeks
3: Into the Wild Elephant Camp
This recently opened sanctuary has quickly become a big hit with their visitors. Into the Wild Elephant Camp currently has four elephants. Two of those are rescued from less ethical elephant tours in both Thailand and Myanmar, where they had to give rides and provide entertainment. A baby elephant was also taken from there, saving him from such a life. Now, Piang Dao (or: Little Moon) is a happy youngster with a naughty streak, living at the camp. The youngest of the bunch is Age Gei, who was born at Into the Wild and is now four years old. Age Gei means Give Me Love in the Karen Hill-tribe dialect (and yes, you won't be able to resist!).
The guides at Into the Wild speak English well and are friendly and engaging. Good friends Pai and Siwa started the camp with a wealth of wildlife experience; Pai worked for the Thai Government for over 15 years in their tiger preservation projects, and Siwa is medical wildlife professional. They started the camp to give something back to the elephants, local hill-tribe community, and their country.
The personal engagement of the people at Into the Wild shows in how they approach the visitor experience, it's important to them that people from outside Thailand understand the history and culture of elephants in their country, and how over time this has evolved and now underpins their philosophy of what makes an ethical elephant sanctuary. They are honest about the practical limits of tackling such a challenge and are open to engaging visitors in discussions on how and why they do things. That they take their ethical responsibility to educate the public seriously is part of what makes them a great sanctuary.
This shows in how visitors take part in a day at the camp: after the drive from Chiang Mai (about 1,5 hours, with a short break) and following a talk by and with owner Pai, the visitors get a chance to let the elephants get to know them by feeding them bananas. What follows is a trek into the forest, with the elephants following the calls of the guides. The elephants then are left to do what they want, such as eating jungle food (skills taught to them by the guides, as they never lived in the wild before) and digging up mud in the local stream to throw unto themselves. The animals return to the camp when they want to, and the visitors follow. Following a delicious lunch prepared by the camp staff, sometimes followed by a mud bath, the visitors can take a swim with the elephants in the refreshing mountain stream next to the camp.
Creating community awareness
The ethical engagement of Into the Wild Elephant Camp does not stop at the treatment of the animals but extends to how they engage with the local hill tribes, which are some of the most impoverished communities in Thailand. Into the Wild has developed a model in which they not only help the community by buying their crops to feed the elephants but also actively employ them at the camp. They use the sanctuary as a community-building tool, exposing the tribal communities to each other, to foreign visitors, and new experiences. For example, they organize a summer camp where tribal kids can meet each other while they learn about elephants and other things outside their isolated local village, such as foreign culture, foods, and languages.
Where: Mae Wang National Park
What: half-day (morning) / full-day program
4: Happy Elephant Home
Happy Elephant Home currently has six elephants and only admits 15 visitors per group per day. Their fantastic guides Omo and Sandy manage every time to turn a good experience into a great one.
Offering half-day and full-day programs, tours at this sanctuary offer a mud-bath with the elephants, which protects their skin against the sun. In the afternoon, you accompany them on a trek to the river through a beautiful valley. At the river, the animals love to take a swim and play in the water. You can join them, of course! Other activities include lessons on elephant behavior and health and making elephant medicine. Medicine such as tamarind balls with herbs in them helps their digestion. You also go collect sugar-cane and corn, otherwise known as elephant candy (they love it!).
One of the perks of Happy Elephant Home is it's a lovely farmhouse that has a swimming pool so that you can take a refreshing dive during your visit. Happy Elephant Home also stands out because it has a real volunteer program. The minimum stay to work or volunteer at the sanctuary is five days.
Where: Mae Taeng Valley
What: half-day (morning or afternoon) / full-day programs
5: Maeklang Elephant Conservation Community
This elephant sanctuary has two locations: the main sanctuary and its 'Sky Camp.' Their main camp supports five elephants and is located in the lovely foothills north of Doi Inthanon National Park. The 'off the grid' Sky Camp is really on the mountain (at 1000m elevation), where four other elephants live. They are all rescued animals, now enjoying the care and access to nature they were deprived of in the past. In September 2019, one of the elephants gave birth to a baby boy. His name is William, and you will be able to visit him at the Sky Camp.
Half-day visitors will only see the main camp, but the full day- and two-day trip features both locations. However, we also offer a combination tour that includes a morning visit to Sky Camp and trekking at Doi Inthanon in the afternoon. All programs involve feeding the elephants, socializing, and taking a mud-bath with them. Maeklang also offers a two-day program that allows you to spend the night with the elephants at the Sky Camp. You stay in a cozy bamboo hut, able to experience the jungle at night, as it comes alive with the sounds of its hidden nature. You are waking up in the morning with the elephants right next to your hut — quite the experience.
The sanctuary of Maeklang sets itself apart because their program tries to 'immerse' visitors in the elephant care-taking. Besides collecting food to feed the animals, you also replant the food. Moreover, to give you the real volunteer experience, you can also help cleaning the elephant stables! You will come away with a real sense of what it means to provide these majestic animals the treatment they deserve. The family that runs Maeklang Elephant Sanctuary understands the need to educate the (local) public. For example, their outreach promotes understanding and ethical treatment of elephants among the surrounding hill-tribe communities.
Where: Mae Wang District, Doi Inthanon National Park
What: full-day / two-day programs
6. Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park was established in the 1990’s and their aim has always been to provide a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. The park is located some 60km from the city, and has provided a sanctuary for dozens of distressed elephants from all over Thailand. The founder Lek Chailert is vegan, see her story here.
This is probably the best known and largest elephant sanctuary. Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center where you can volunteer and visit to help. The park provides a natural environment for elephants, dogs, cats, buffaloes and many other animals under their care.
Volunteers and visitors contribute to the healing while learning about their lives past and present. They have projects in Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Where: 1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai 50200
What: 1 day: 3,500 thb; 2 day: 5,800 tbs; 1 week: 15,000 thb
7. BEES elephant sanctuary
BEES – Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary is a home for old,injured and retired elephants needing rest and/or permenant care. At BEES we give elephants a chance to live free and to just be elephants.
BEES provide an alternative for elephants and their owners to move away from the busy city life and hardships of trekking by providing a retirement home for elephants and a place were elephants can live free and have a good rest in a natural environment.
BEES works to raise awareness and to join many others in the hope to bring an end to the suffering and exploitation of the elephants. There are over 4,000 registered captive elephants in Thailand that suffer everyday in the tourism industry being used for entertainment and trekking. Little do the tourists know that the $$$ are funding the continued exploitation and ultimately the suffering of these beautiful and majestic creatures.
Located just 2.5hrs drive South-West of Chiang Mai, amongst beautiful mountain scenery and lush countryside, BEES is a local family and community based project. Situated in a valley in Maechaem, we have breath taking views of Doi Inthanon the highest mountain in Thailand.
This is a place where you might just find yourself lost in the moment. Experience elephants in a natural environment that stimulates their inherent wild behaviors…. Something well deserved as these elephants have spent their entire lives in the logging or tourism trekking industry before finally arriving at BEES.
Join our Volunteer Program or short stay guest programs, experience living the Thai way in our unique traditional Thai style rooms (a mattress and mosquito net on the floor), enjoy refreshing cold showers after a warm days work and be rewarded by the sight of these beautiful creatures getting a better life. Get up close and personal and learn about elephants from a different perspective and help us bring an end to the abuse and exploitation of these majestic creatures.
Our Elephants – To Buy or To Rent !?
With the constant demand in tourism for elephant riding and activities, the trade continues. Whether we are buying to rescue/retire or renting to provide rest and care/ with the hope of Long term retirement for our elephants, we have many questions on our minds. And sometimes fate makes those choices for us and sometimes we have to walk away, but never stop thinking about them in the hope one day we can help them. If we BUY this elephant, how will the owner use the funds? Will another elephant be replaced by the one we rescued? If we buy the elephant, it is one rescued, one off the streets, out of the camps and permanently free from work exploitation and abuse.
OR maybe the owners don’t want to sell and then we are asked to RENT this elephant to provide rest and care and/or long term retirement paying the elephants owners a monthly income so they can provide for their families. With renting we have no guarantee – the elephant may or may not stay long term. And in the end, as we have dealt with in the past, the elephants may have to leave… they have a nice rest, receive medical treatments, get back to good health and then have to leave because the owners decide they want them to work in the camps trekking or as a photo prop where they will make more money or the family has a superstitious belief that the elephant must go for various reasons. It’s very hard on other elephants they may have bonded with at the sanctuary and is also very stressful on the elephant that is returned to work or exploitive camps, as they become used to not having to work and be surrounded by crowds.
When we first started we were able to RENT an elephant for 3,000THB per Month, these days elephant rent is now between 20,000THB – 30,000THB per month.
In 2011 when we founded BEES an elephant over 50 years old was anywhere between 250,000THB to 400,000THB, now an elephant over 50 years of age is around 600,000THB to 1.5Million THB with younger elephants ranging from 1 to 2 Million THB
Time and time again we are faced with difficult choices and it seems that there is no real answer. We just do what we can, where we can. The elephant situation in Thailand is very complex.
BEES – Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary is at the forefront for Elephant welfare, in a constantly changing and evolving world, we feel it is our responsibility to lead by example and encourage the highest welfare standards possible.
where: 34 M1, Ban ThMaechaem, 50270 Thailand
phone: +66 (0)8619 72519Phone: +66 (0)8840 36028
8. Hug elephant sanctuary
There were 100,000 elephants in 1850 but now there are only 2,700 domesticated elephants in Thailand and 95% percent of them are owned by the private sector. For the wild elephants, it is difficult to count in number but it is predicted as 2,000-3,000 elephants by the elephant specialists.
The founders established Hug Elephant as a small sanctuary to improve the quality of care given to elephants with morality. The elephants live happily with the local people and community.
Where: Mae Win, Mae Wang District, Chiang Mai 50360, Thailand
9. Kanta Elephant Sanctuary
We offer a retirement home for ALL elephants who have previously worked hard for tourism entertainment or in the logging industry.
Feed, walk with, and observe our beautiful rescued elephants as they roam throughout our sanctuary, socialize and bathe naturally in our huge fresh water lagoons, as they would in the wild
Where: 200 Cachapakinai Rd, Amphoe Mae Taeng, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50150
Phuket's First Ethical Sanctuary Where Elephants Roam & Bathe Freely
Bordering the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary offers a new home for overtired elephants who have suffered from working long hours in the logging and tourism industry. As the first ethical elephant tourism experience in Phuket, we rescue sick, injured and old elephants, welcoming them back into their indigenous habit.
At Phuket Elephant Sanctuary elephants can just be elephants. Feed them pineapples and bananas, and observe these gentle giants as they enjoy their newfound freedom, socialize with each other and bathe freely in our expansive fresh water lagoons.
Your visit guarantees to leave you inspired, transformed and in awe of these majestic animals.
ElephantVoices uses knowledge acquired over decades to act as a voice for elephants. In the wild, ivory poaching, destruction of habitat, competition with people for diminishing resources, sport hunting, culling and capture, all threaten the freedom and survival of elephants. In captivity, their well-being is affected by abusive practices and exploitation for commercial gain.
Through Conservation, Advocacy, Research and Education, CARE, we promote the protection and kinder treatment of elephants wherever they may be. As acknowledged experts on the natural behavior of elephants we offer insight to protect them and the authority to speak on their behalf.