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.

Elephant sanctuaries & projects
which we support

Cambodia

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’.

India

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

Kenya

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
A well run orphan rescue and rehabilitation program with a high success rate of releasing elephants and also rhinos back into the wild.

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

Laos

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.

Namibia

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

Nepal

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.

Myanmar

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 Transit Home
There is no direct interaction but orphaned elephants can be viewed from a platform at feeding times before roaming back into the park. Please note that it has recently come to our attention that there have been some mismanagement issues at the Elephant Transit Home. We are currently in communication with Born Free who support the ETH and the situation is being monitored. We will update details as soon as we have them (Jul, 2019).

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.

Thailand

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.

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.

Elephant Valley, Chang Rai
Run by the people behind the award winning Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia, which adheres to strict ethical animal welfare standards.

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Elephant parks & projects which
we do not support

The information below was accurate as of January 2018. If you are aware that any of these practices or policies have changed, do let us know and we would be happy to update our stance on these sanctuaries and parks.

Bali

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.

India

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.

Indonesia

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.

Laos

ElefantAsia
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
They have now phased out use of the howdah but still offer bareback elephant rides.

Nepal

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
We do not support this attraction as it offers elephant rides. However, MEF is making efforts to raise awareness of the plight of captive elephants, and to encourage visitors to choose walking with elephants instead of riding them. They have also campaigned against the use of the howdah. We hope to see more positive progress from MEF in the coming months and years.

South Africa

Knysna Elephant Park
A park offering elephant encounters which include rides, photo opportunities and hiring out elephants for weddings.

Thailand

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
Attraction offering elephant shows, elephant painting & experiences such as bathing & riding.

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.


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]
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