Why I chose Elephant Jungle Sanctuary: Phuket
It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten back from my trip to Thailand but this topic is relevant all year long so I’m finally getting around to writing about my experience at the Elephant Sanctuary in Phuket! It is a recently opened location (with others in Chiangmai and Pattaya). I knew going into my trip I wanted to do a LOT of research for a sanctuary that was truly cruelty free. Among some of the sanctuary’s I found there were sanctuaries where people noted that even though some mahouts did not openly abuse the elephants – some carried nails in their hands to prod the elephants with. That being said, EJS was one of the few where there was no riding whatsoever so I felt like I could trust that they truly put the elephants well-being first.
Getting To the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
We decided on the Sanctuary in Phuket because that’s the location that worked with our schedule. You get picked up from your hotel in a super cool pickup truck where we could sit in the back with an attachment that makes the truck bed into a bench. It’s so simple, but I loved it and thought it was super fun haha. (see video below) We picked up a few other people on the way and met other Americans and people from all over the world! Overall it took us about an hour to get there with all the pickups.
Why is elephant riding harmful?
We arrived at the location and immediately saw this huge water pond, that was obviously the bath/ shower area for the elephants. I also noticed there was A BUNCH of bananas. Literally a whole shack stacked with bananas. So that gives you an idea of how much an elephant eats, in addition to watermelons and sugar cane. Once you arrive you sit with the larger group and get an introduction to the history of the sanctuary and why there is a need to spread awareness about the elephant riding issue in Thailand.
I think the information that stuck with me the most were 2 facts:
- Asian elephants are not made for carrying large weights on their backs. (See diagram here) As you can see they have bony protrusions, whereas another animal like a horse would have rounded spinal disks. And because of the bony parts, in addition with the fact that the skin over the bones is thin already. When you put on a heavy seat thing on their back, it wears the skindown to where their spine is exposed. Once exposed it is extremely vulnerable and oftentimes leads to paralysis and more often than not, the elephants are left to die because they cannot walk to food or water. The average lifespan for an elephant is about 80 years in the wild, and in captivity it is about half that or less.
- Another reason why riding is harmful is the process that the baby elephants are put through. To get them to be docile enough to be ridden, there is a process called Phajaan which sounds horrible! You can read more here on their website.
Feeding the Elephants
Alright, now that you’re educated and aware – let’s get to the fun part. Feeding and washing the elephants! There was a baby one while we were there and it was so cute! Kevin kept following it around, but personally I liked the older elephants better. The baby one was pretty naughty and kept charging around and scaring people. (naughty attracts naughty I guess bahaha). The older ones are so calm and when you look into their eyes you can truly feel how majestic and gentle they are.
You start out by helping prep the bananas to be eaten, ripping them from the bunch. Remember the shack of bananas I mentioned earlier? Yea – you prep those. Once you’ve prepped a basketful you walk over to the feeding area. The elephants know at that point what it means and start coming in from the surrounding jungle area and its pretty awesome to see. Also, feeding an elephant was harder than I anticipated. First, you take a few bananas or a chunk of watermelon and knock on their trunk with it. I KNOW, SO WEIRD. And because their eyes are on the side of their heads they can’t see. So the elephants know if you yell “BON BON” and tap their trunk with it – they’ll open their mouths and you basically shove it into their open mouths and remove your hand quickly.
Once they’re full, the elephants get herded towards the makeshift bath/ pool area and get in and you are welcome to join them. Now you’re probably asking, is it clean? And the answer is – don’t worry about it. Just get in and have fun with it! You scoop the mud from the bottom of the pool and splat it onto the elephants and they LOVE it and lie down so you can get more areas haha! The workers at the sanctuary have a LOT of fun with it by throwing mud balls at you too. (why my back is muddy AF in the video) Once that’s done, they get rinsed off and go under a shower area where you’re given a little brush to brush them with. It’s hilarious to see a bunch of people with these tiny brushes scrubbing at these huge elephants.
Overall I rate my experience at 12/10!! Haha. And 20/10 would do again if I were in Thailand. I’ve always had a passion for animals and before I found my current job I was funemployed and seriously considered volunteering at a few animal welfare organizations around the world. It’s still a possibility as well! Anyways I highly recommend visiting any of the three sanctuaries during your time in Thailand – you won’t regret it! Website here! Check out a short recap video below if my post hasn’t convinced you 🙂
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind”