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 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.


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. As just a few hundred wild elephants remain in Laos, there is also a programme to breed elephants using mothers 'on loan' from their mahouts. The babies will remain at the center rather than returning to the mahout, and are given the opportunity to live as wild a life as possible.

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.


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.


Elephant Nature Park
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.

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.

Elephant Freedom Village
This sanctuary in Chiang Mai 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.

Our top Elephant conservation Vacation

Elephant conservation volunteering in Thailand

Elephant conservation volunteering in Thailand

Elephant and Karen Hill tribe community volunteering

From £450 6 days ex flights
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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
Billed as Bali’s most unique hotel, it offers elephants up as chauffeurs transporting guests from one part of the resort to another. Elephants play basketball and are required to perform tricks for guests.

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.


Described as a conservation center ‘protecting the Asian elephant’, guests are allowed to sit on the elephants and go on longer treks with a howdah-style contraption for carrying luggage.

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 MES 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.


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

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 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.

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