Elephant sanctuaries which we
do & don’t support

Although the ideal place for elephants to live is in the wild, this is not always possible. Many elephants have been rescued from temples, zoos or circus-style attractions; they may have been orphaned or injured, and it is rarely safe or feasible for them to be returned to the wild. In this case, they may be cared for in elephant sanctuaries or rescue and rehabilitation centers, and these centers supplement their income (elephants are unsurprisingly costly to house, feed and care for) by opening their gates to tourists and volunteers. However it is difficult to know whether a place that brands itself as a sanctuary or rehabilitation center really is as ethical as it claims to be.

We have refined our own stance on elephant tourism over the last few years, following discussions with NGOs and tour operators, and as a result we do not promote any sanctuaries which offer elephant rides, performances or other types of unnatural behaviour designed for tourists. We only promote trips to legitimate sanctuaries and rescue centers for elephants that cannot be returned to the wild. Captive breeding should take place only if there are measures in place for the babies to be able to be released into wild or semi wild conditions once they are old enough, rather than being kept in small enclosures or given to mahouts to be used in the logging industry.

In light of this we have undertaken research into a number of elephant sanctuaries and below are our findings on the elephant centers which we do and don’t support. This is an ongoing process and we have, for example, seen some centers change for the better as awareness grows surrounding issues such as elephant rides. Please do get in touch with us if you have any additional information, updates or wish us to re-review an organisation on the list, at rosy@responsibletravel.com .

Elephant sanctuaries & projects
which we support


Elephant Valley Project, Mondulkiri, Cambodia
This registered Cambodian NGO leads the way when it comes to setting high ethical animal welfare standards in Southeast Asia. They put elephants first and the only experience they offer is ‘watching elephants being real elephants’.

Elephant Sanctuary Cambodia
Now home to Kaavan, once dubbed ‘the loneliest elephant in the world’, this 32,000-acre stretch of jungle on the edge of the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the largest protected areas in Cambodia. Volunteer here for a week and your efforts will contribute to restoring this precious habitat after years of illegal logging.


Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai
This sanctuary acts as a 'retirement home' for rescued elephants. It does not promote elephant riding or performances, and is considered a pioneer in the treatment of captive elephants.

Somboon Legacy Foundation, Kanchanburi
Promising a true safe haven for rescued elephants, this Kanchanburi sanctuary allows the animals to interact and live entirely freely. There are only two elephants here at the moment, and they’re both old. Visitors watch from a distance as the elephants follow their own schedule. No feeding, no bathing experiences, instead a very pleasant feeling of watching the elephants as they enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary, near Chiang Mai
Providing a safe retirement home for a handful rescued elephants, this family-run sanctuary also helps support a range of small businesses in their local community. You can visit for the day, or stay over in their traditional accommodation, but elephant welfare always come first. You’ll have no actual contact with the elephants, but follow them down to the river where you can watch safely from an observation tower as they bathe. Visitors are also welcome to help practically by planting or cutting grasses and corn to feed the elephants.

Phuket Elephant sanctuary
The Phuket Elephant sanctuary is leading the way when it comes to the ethical treatment of retired/rescued elephants. Not only do elephants roam free but they also bathe freely too with the only tourist/elephant interaction allowed at feeding time. Please note that there are parks impersonating them in brochures so make sure you are being taken to the sanctuary in Paklok. They are not affiliated with any other elephant park or sanctuary on the island.

Tree Tops Elephant Reserve, Phuket
A superb, pioneering sanctuary that puts ethical elephant welfare first and foremost. Don’t expect a touristy experience here. Instead, the Tree Tops visitor program is strictly observation-only. You can walk alongside these gentle giants, rescued from the tourist trade, as they make their own way down to the river where they can behave entirely naturally. .

Changchill Elephant sanctuary, Chiang Mai
From 2017 the new owner of this ethical elephant sanctuary near Chiang Mai began to move away from riding, and the four resident females here can now be visited on a no-touch basis. You can watch as they roam the valley and forest, graze and bathe in water and mud, while also learning about Karen hill tribe culture.

Elephant Freedom Village, Chiang Mai
This sanctuary works alongside local Karen hill tribe communities, whose lives are often intertwined with elephants. As well as helping to feed and bathe the elephants, visitors can learn about hill tribe culture with a series of experiences such as traditional meals in a village house, and helping with the coffee harvest. The elephants spend 90 percent of their time at liberty in the forest, and sleep in sheltered paddocks with staff members sleeping next door to monitor their wellbeing.

Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital, Lampang
Not to be confused with the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (also in Lampang) where elephants perform shows for tourists, this is the first elephant hospital of its kind in Thailand. The Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital pioneers new methods and technologies to heal sick or wounded elephants and even has its own prosthetics center.

Elephant Hills, Khao Sok
One of the few completely chain free elephant parks in Southeast Asia. It's a luxury tented jungle camp offering natural encounters with elephants but no riding or performances.

Mahouts Elephant Foundation
This organisation is working towards establishing a shift in attitude within tourism that facilitates the return of captive, working elephants to a protected forest habitat. They currently run a project with hill mahouts in Thailand to oversee the return of previously captive elephants to a protected forest area while finding an alternate income stream for their mahouts. You can join their Walking With Elephants programme in Thailand to help with funding this.

WFFT Thai Elephant Refuge, near Hua Hin
Wildlife Friends Foundation Trust takes an active stance against elephant exploitation. They offer a meet, greet and feeding experience with no bathing or riding etc.

Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (BLES), Sukhothai
All profits from this sanctuary are reinvested into elephant conservation. Guest numbers are kept low and elephant welfare is put first.

Samui Elephant Sanctuary, Koh Samui
This multi award-winning elephant sanctuary on Koh Samui has opened a second site in Chaweng Noi. Putting the elephants’ welfare first, they do not permit bathing them so as to allow the animals to behave naturally. Visitors can walk with the elephants, and take part in feeding sessions.


Elephant Conservation and Care Center, Mathura
India’s first chain-free camp with generous open space and well run visits.


The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
A well run orphan rescue and rehabilitation programme with a high success rate of releasing elephants and also rhinos back into the wild. The conservation arm protects species and invests in anti-poaching projects. The orphanage is open to visitors for one hour per day where you can observe the orphans from behind a rope as they play, feed etc. Please note that due to popularity it can get very crowded at this time.

Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary
A community-owned conservation project created to provide a wildlife corridor for elephants and reduce human-elephant conflict in the area.

Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
Owned and run by members of the Samburu community in Northern Kenya, the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary takes in orphaned and abandoned elephant calves, rehabilitates them and aims to release as many as possible into the wild herds in the surrounding area. Visitors can watch from a viewing platform as the elephants are brought in from the bush for feeding and play time in the mud hole. You’ll be paired up with a keeper, as well as taking a backstage tour of the sanctuary, to learn more about how it works.


Mekong Elephant Park
Now providing a restful and safe home for a handful of elephants rescued from the logging and tourism industries, this sanctuary aims to set new standards in animal husbandry while also providing a secure income for mahouts and their families. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area to walk alongside the elephants and watch them bathe. There is a restaurant on-site too.

Save Elephants Foundation, Laos
While this sanctuary is not open to visitors, if you’re looking to support one with donations then your money will be well-spent here. Donate via the Trunks Up foster programme. Working under the umbrella of Save Elephant Foundation and the fantastic Lek, this sanctuary looks after just five rescued elephants who are free to live naturally in a large area.

Elephant Conservation Center
Elephants can still be used in the logging industry in Laos, and this center offers a home to elephants who worked in logging or tourism. Once known as ElefantAsia, the center has attempted to clean up its image and no longer features riding. The center also breeds elephants, saying that the aim is to release these into the wild. If you're visiting we'd be really interested to know if there is any evidence of this happening.

MandaLao Sanctuary
Home to a small number of elephants rescued from the logging industry, there are no rides, or forced entertainment on offer here. Instead guests are able to walk through the forest with the elephants, watch them bathe and feed them (although the elephants forage over 50% of their daily food). The team here is also working with a national park to reintroduce elephants into the wild.


Elephant Human Relations Aid
EHRA offers well run volunteer projects, including family volunteering, working with wild elephants and communities.


Tiger Tops Elephant Camp
A tented camp where visitors live amongst the elephants. Elephants live with no chains and no repetitive day to day routines. Guests can walk with the elephants through the jungle and observe them interacting.

Temple Tiger Green Jungle Resort
This is less a sanctuary, more an eco resort in Nepal's Chitwan National Park. And we know that they offer elephant safaris as well as the opportunity to wash elephants. So it's not a perfect place, by a long way. However, there is a distinction between elephant back safaris and riding experiences, and they also offer a range of sustainable activities like naturalist-led jungle hikes. We hope over time it will make more positive changes, and we would be very interested to hear from anyone who has visited.


Green Hill Valley Elephant Park
A family owned refuge for ex working elephants. Visitors can wash the elephants, but their wellbeing and care is central to the operation. Also a reforestation center tackling the issue of habitat loss.

South Africa

Space for Elephants Foundation
No direct interaction with elephants but offers educational experiences and community projects aimed at re-establishing lost migratory corridors.

Sri Lanka

Elephant Freedom Project
This sanctuary shelters just a handful of elephants, including one who is rented from her owner in order to prevent him from leasing her out to a trekking camp or zoo.


The Elephant Sanctuary, Tennessee
There are thought to be around 300 elephants captive in American zoos, not to mention those kept in private establishments. The Elephant Sanctuary takes a stand against breeding in captivity, use of the bullhook and using elephants as entertainment.

Elephant Refuge North America, Georgia
An 850-acre refuge that will provide a home for up to 10 elephants retiring from zoos and circuses, it is not open to the public but those with a passion for elephant welfare can observe them via webcams planted unobtrusively in their habitat.

Our top Elephant conservation Vacation

Elephant conservation project in Namibia

Elephant conservation project in Namibia

Preserve the beautiful desert elephants of Namibia!

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If you'd like to chat about Elephant conservation or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Elephant parks & projects which
we do not support

We update this list as and when new information comes to light. If you are aware of any elephant parks or projects on the list below have new practices or policies, please do let us know and we would be happy to investigate further.


Mason Elephant Park and Lodge
Over 30 Sumatran elephants are captive at this park in Tegallalang. After paying extortionate entrance fees, visitors are encouraged to ride the elephants, as well as watch them perform tricks. There is evidence of the mahouts using hooks, and other very worrying practises. Celebrity endorsements play a big role here, as do photo shoots. This place is a great big red flag as far as we’re concerned and we would strongly avoid visiting.

Taro Elephant Sanctuary
An awful sanctuary that prides itself on having elephants performing tricks and taking customers on elephant back rides.


Kodanad Elephant Training Centre and Orphanage
An elephant training camp in Kerala with reports of malpractice, elephants chained to trees for long periods of time and made to pose for photos in exchange for tips for the guides.

Elephant Junction, Thekkady, Kerala
Elephants are exploited for tourism, offering elephant rides, photo opportunities etc.


Tangkahan Elephant Sanctuary
This sanctuary is not a sanctuary in the sense that the elephants work for tourists, giving multiple elephant back rides a day. They use howdahs for transporting multiple tourists on the elephant's backs and there are reports that the elephants are forced to perform tricks and lie down in the water so tourists can bathe them.

Taro Elephant Safari Park
Elephants chained up and only exercised when out giving a ride. Howdahs are used and multiple tourists ride on the elephants' backs. Elephants are also required to participate in a daily talent show and perform tricks.


Elephant Village Sanctuary and Resort, Luang Prabang
Elephant Village now claims to have stopped all forms of elephant riding, though it seems that it will still be offered for visits booked before this decision was made. We are waiting for independent confirmation of this change.

Manifa Elephant camp This camp offers mahout experience programs where riding on the elephant is permitted.


Elephant breeding center, Sauraha
Elephants are bred here for training - either to give rides in Chitwan park or for the military. Elephant calves and mothers are forcibly separated and kept apart by chains.

Sri Lanka

Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage
Also spelled Pinnawala, this is a government run center with questionable conservation projects and low animal welfare standards. See our report on this here.

Millennium Elephant Foundation, Kegalle
It looks as though MEF is no longer offering elephant rides – we would appreciate confirmation from any travelers that have visited recently. MEF is also making efforts to raise awareness of the plight of captive elephants, and have campaigned against the use of the howdah. We hope to be able to recommend MEF soon.

South Africa

Knysna Elephant Park
We’re pleased to see that Knysna has made significant improvements to the way that visitors interact with their rescue elephants, minimising ‘touch and feel’ in favour of experiences that prioritise animal welfare. However they still use elephants as a backdrop for weddings and events which is not something we agree with.


Kuala Gandah National Elephant Conservation Centre
It doesn't really get much worse than this exploitative nightmare, which is a perfect example of why Responsible Travel no longer promotes any vacations that offer bathing. We've also seen images of elephants carrying multiple people at the same time in the river. Avoid this place.


Elephant Mahout Project, Pattaya
Offers 'volunteer' placements where participants learn to ride the elephants like a mahout. Update: we believe this has now closed.

Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, Chiang Mai
This sanctuary offers bathing experiences where elephants are in deep water with lots of people. We have also seen images on Facebook of very young children taking part in these experiences, in the water. We don't consider this at all a safe activity for kids, and we consider elephant bathing to be problematic, so if visiting Kanta we would strongly suggest you do not take part in bathing activities - especially with children. .

Thai Elephant Home, Chiang Mai
Offers an ‘own an elephant for the day’ experience which includes riding your ‘own’ elephant. It also operates a captive breeding programme, and visitors are invited to ‘play’ with the baby elephants. Habituating them in this way ensures they cannot be returned to the wild.

Chiang Dao Elephant camp, Chiang Mai
Training young elephants to paint and perform. Buys and breeds elephants, which are then trained to perform and kept in captivity permanently.

Patara Elephant Farm, Chiang Mai
An elephant breeding farm which offers rides . The babies are bred to be kept in captivity.

Maesa Elephant Camp
Maesa is now under new management and it looks as though significant changes have been made. According to their website elephants are no longer chained, giving them complete freedom of movement, and mahouts do not ride them or use the hook to control them. We are waiting for independent confirmation of these changes, and that ‘elephant performances’ no longer take place, before moving Maesa off this list.

Elephant Stay, Royal Elephant Kraal Village, Ayutthaya
A tourist focused 'working elephant village', visitors are given branded t-shirts, ride elephants as part of learning to be a mahout, and pose for photos with elephants.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center, Lampang
Not to be confused with the hospital, this is a separate, government owned elephant camp with daily elephant shows and rides.

Surin Elephant Round-up
This festival has been reported for its abuses of elephants including getting them to perform tricks for tourists, engage in mock battles and an 'elephant buffet'.

BMP Elephant Care project
The elephants here reportedly don't live on site but are in fact rented and brought to the camp daily. When not in the camp they are being used for riding, trekking and shows elsewhere. There have also been multiple reports of cruel behaviour at the hands of the people looking after them as well as of grown adults sitting on baby elephants for photo opportunities.

Anantara Golden Triangle Camp
This luxury hotel has an onsite elephant camp/mahout village. It does not offer rides, but instead organises various experiences with the elephants, including dinner, picnics and sunset tours.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (EJS)
We are unclear on where their elephants come from, but their website features several photos of babies, making us suspicious that they are being bred in captivity for tourism rather than genuinely rescued. If that is the case, then we are also concerned that for elephants to be safe around humans for activities such as bathing, they must have their ‘spirit broken’ which often involves very cruel practises. If you visit, please let us know your impressions especially around where their elephants may be coming from. We've seen concerning reports online about their sanctuary in Phuket. They also have sanctuaries in Pattaya and Koh Samui which we are similarly interested in.


Elephant Preserve, Texas
We learned about this Fredricksburg 'sanctuary' from someone who had visited. They described the elephants engaging in unnatural, clearly trained behaviours, as well as a painting demonstration after which 'works of art' were sold for very high prices in the gift shop. Handlers were also reported to be carrying bullhooks.

Wilstem Wildlife Park, Indiana
As well as bears, giraffes, sloths and otters, this ranch keeps a small herd of elephants. Animal encounters here include helping to bathe the elephants, while younger visitors are encouraged to paint the elephants’ toenails during spa days. We think elephants can live without having jazzy toenails, especially because – for them to be safe around children – they need to be kept under strict control. The ranch claims to be breeding animals to help boost populations in the wild, but as far as we can see there’s no evidence of any animals actually being released.

Endangered Ark Foundation, Oklahoma
Elephants are huge, immensely powerful creatures. To have members of the public stood next to them for photos, to stroke them, to bathe them, can only be done safely if the elephants are carefully controlled, and too often control is by the threat of force. This sanctuary offers photo shoots and bathing experiences, which is why we would not recommend visiting. The best sanctuaries are entirely hands-off.

Written by Anna Rice and Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: akshay sant] [Intro: Christian Haugen] [Do support - Laos: Fabien BASTIDE] [Do support - Myanmar: Athein] [Don't support - Bali: Sean Hamlin]