Say no to cruel riding camps and animal performances, and visit one of these ethical sanctuaries that allow rescued elephants to thrive in their natural jungle environment...
The inspirational Lek Chailert (herself a Karen woman) has spent years supporting elephants across Thailand. Her excellent sanctuary currently hosts 118 pachyderms, many of them elderly retirees from logging or tourism. It allows day visits as well as weeklong eco-volunteering stays.
Where: Chiang Mai
More information: elephantnaturepark.org
This is a sweet little sanctuary with herd of just three elephants. Half-day visits are in small groups, and include feeding, going on a jungle walk with the animals, and the chance to watch them bathe.
More information: pattayaelephantsanctuary.org
One of Thailand’s original ethical elephant sanctuaries lies on the tourist-heavy island of Phuket in the far south of the country. Eleven rescued elephants live a sedate life here; visitors on half-day trips can get a unique view of the herd from a 600m-long aerial canopy walkway.
More information: phuketelephantsanctuary.org
This is more than just a sanctuary. Set in 36,000 hectares of largely native forest, this foundation’s LIFE Project is using tourism to create economic opportunities for the Karen people and to help protect their resident elephants. The foundation also runs a volunteer scheme.
Where: Mae Sot
More information: mahouts.org
This large facility hosts bears and tigers that have been rescued from zoos and circuses, plus over 20 elephants. You can volunteer here or come for a half-day visit (9am–noon). No touching of the elephants is allowed but guests may feed those who want to be fed with fruit.
Where: Tha Mai Ruak
More information: wfft.org
Set on the popular tourist island of Koh Samui, this small sanctuary has 13 elephants that have been rescued from a lifetime of abuse. There are also two playful babies, Luna and Haven, which have become budding stars of the internet.
Where: Koh Samui
More information: samuielephanthaven.org