Ethical Feeding: Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
Elephant enthusiasts are in for a treat as the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary launches a new ethical experience in the form of the Thai island’s first hands-off feeding session.
As an advocate of ethical elephant tourism, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary has rescued and rehabilitated 12 elephants from the tourism and timber trade since opening in 2016. Now it is offering guests an enhanced experience to watch the mighty mammals revel in their natural habitat.
The latest addition to the sanctuary’s swathe of offerings is its 100 percent Hands-Off programme for conscientious travellers wanting to bathe in the beasts’ beauty in the right way – from afar.
Throughout the day, the small group of visitors can roam the 30-acre slice of jungle with an experienced guide and watch the elephants as they forage for food, cool off in pools of water and plod through the dappled shade.
There is also the chance to meet Kannika and Madee, the sanctuary’s first two elephants, and prepare food parcels of khao tom mat. These consist of sticky rice, mashed bananas, coconut meat, salt and sugar, wrapped in a large banana leaf. Visitors can deliver the healthy snacks into the jungle and watch quietly as they are devoured by the elephants.
“It has always been our mission to give elephants the freedom and space they deserve after decades of hard work in logging camps, shows and riding camps,” says founder Montri Todtane. “Since our opening, interaction with the elephants has been limited. We do not offer bathing or any other form of interaction with elephants to respect their freedom.”
Thailand is not the only country where tourism’s relationship with elephants is changing. Read about Mark Bibby Jackson’s experience of walking with elephants in Laos, or discover more about World Elephant Day.
Todtane adds only elephants happy to engage in short encounters take part in feeding. Many living at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary already shy away from visitors. These include Gaew Ta, a loveable 58-year-old blind elephant, and Sroy Fah, a 45-year-old elephant who previously suffered from abuse in riding camps and has not fully regained her trust in humans.
“My ultimate dream is for our rescued elephants to live together as a herd in an environment that truly resembles their way of life; an environment where visitors are merely observers and learn about the elephants’ history and important role within our ecosystem,” adds Montri. “While we will continue to offer programmes that include a short, non-intrusive feeding interaction, for the time being, the new hands-off experience gets us one step closer to realising this dream.”
Having welcomed a swathe of A-list celebrities, including John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Kevin Hart, Nathalie Emmanuel and Kevin Love, through its doors this year, Phuket Elephant Sanctuary has positioned itself as the island’s leading ethical elephant experience and offers full- and half-day programmes to help fund the tireless work offering elephants respite from arduous working lives.
It is Phuket’s first ethical sanctuary and is supported by the Save Elephant Foundation and Asian Elephant Projects. The Hands-Off experience includes an educational documentary and Thai vegetarian dinner buffet at the Tree Top Lounge.