The Inspiring Mission of Phuket, Thailand’s Elephant Sanctuary

The Inspiring Mission of Phuket, Thailand’s Elephant Sanctuary

Is riding an elephant still on your travel bucket list? This year-old retirement home for pachyderms may have you rethinking that idea, once you learn what's involved.

More and more travelers are boycotting the elephant tourism industry in southeast Asia due to many camps’ unethical treatment and abuse of their animals. But without the elephant rides and tricks these majestic animals typically perform, will tourists continue to seek them out? One recently-opened elephant sanctuary in Phuket, Thailand is proving that yes, they will. The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is winning visitors—including some A-list celebrities—with an inspiring core mission of natural care for mistreated elephants, resulting in a group of happy pachyderms.

The elephants at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary are considered retired. They don’t work the way most elephants in Thailand do—giving rides, putting on shows, posing pictures—in order to earn tourist dollars for their employers. Instead, these elephants live out the rest of their natural lives, doing all the normal things they’re supposed to do—and that’s exactly the draw.

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary is a 30-acre plot of land in the Thalang district of Phuket. It’s a safe haven for sick, old, and mistreated elephants that would have been, under their previous owners, likely worked to death. Many of them are scarred and battered from years of logging and other intensive physical tasks they were forced to perform. To make them obedient, elephants in Thailand, India, and Myanmar are often separated from their families and abused. One common method is called “crushing,” wherein elephant trainers—called mahouts—beat young elephants in order to break their spirits and make them submissive. The mental and physical toll this takes on an intelligent elephant is devastating. Which is all the more reason why the popularity of an elephant sanctuary in Thailand is unusual, significant, and desperately needed.

JUST THE TWO OF US! Kannika and Madee, as many know, are the most inseparable of friends. They have been side by side, or rather trunk to trunk!, ever since they were rescued on 20th August 2016. They took their first tentative steps into Phuket Elephant Sanctuary together, and have supported, protected, and blossomed together throughout their rehabilitation. Madee is gentle and protective, Kannika is quirky and fun. Whether they are sharing a muddy wallow or a lush bamboo bush, or splashing around in the ponds, they absolutely adore each other, and really are living life to the full! To read more about Kannika and Madee, please head on over to www.phuketelephantsanctuary.org/our-elephants ————— If you wish to visit us, please book directly through our website www.phuketelephantsanctuary.org/book-here We look forward to welcoming you to Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, the first ethical elephant sanctuary on the beautiful island of Phuket in Southern Thailand. #PhuketElephantSanctuary #Phuket #Thailand #KannikaElephant #MadeeElephant #EthicalTourism #Elephants #NaturePhotography #Friendship www.phuketelephantsanctuary.org Photo Cr: Russell Pes

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An Ethical Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary was founded in November of 2016 by a trio of elephant experts and animal conservationists: Louise Rogerson, founder of EARS Asia; Sangdeaun Lek Chailert, founder of the Save Elephant Foundation; and Montri Todtane, a former elephant owner. Rogerson is from Manchester, England, and after a career in fashion, decided in 2010 to follow her dream of working with animals. After living in Asia for 20 years, learning about the cruelty in the elephant tourism industry influenced her to devote her life to the cause. In contrast, Chailert grew up in the small Thai tribal village of Baan Lao, and has worked with animals from a young age. She was named one of Time’s “Heroes of Asia” in 2005, and invited by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Washington, D.C., and honored as one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation in 2010. She also opened the Elephant Nature Park in 1996, after which her new sanctuary is modeled. Finally, Todtane grew up tapping trees on his grandfather’s rubber plantation in Pa Klok in Phuket’s northeast. Today, that plot of land houses the elephant camp opened by the three partners.

At Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, human-animal interaction is kept to a minimum. Visitors are instructed not to stand within six feet of elephants, or enter into their blind spots. Don’t expect to ride any elephants at PES: That’s considered an outdated and harmful practice. Many tourists—even animal-conscious ones—look forward to riding and snapping photos atop elephants, without realizing the level at which the animals are overworked and even tortured in training. At Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, visitors enjoy elephants by simply learning about them and observing them in their natural habitatthe way they’re supposed to actually live. It’s important to note that here, elephants are not regarded as props for human enjoyment.

VISITOR FEATURE: AARON PAUL – HOLLYWOOD MOVIE STAR VISITS PHUKET ELEPHANT SANCTUARY We have been very busy rescuing our latest two elephants this week but we were also very privileged to welcome top Hollywood movie star Aaron Paul and his beautiful wife Lauren to Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. Lauren was celebrating her 30th birthday, and along with their many fabulous friends who had all flown in from LA, Aaron had surprised Lauren with a beautiful holiday in Phuket. Aaron is best known for his role as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad, and many movies including Need for Speed, Fathers and Daughters, and his latest movie Come And Find Me. Aaron had researched ethical elephant tourism as Lauren absolutely loves elephants and only wanted to visit and support a true ethical elephant sanctuary. They spent the most wonderful morning with Kannika and Madee saying it was a dream come true to see happy elephants in their natural habitat. We are truly thankful to Aaron, Lauren and all their friends for supporting us and for placing a spotlight on ethical elephant tourism and our work to help the elephants here at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary in Southern Thailand. @glassofwhiskey #aaronpaul #laurenpaul8 #breakingbad #needforspeed #comeandfindme #jedidiahjenkins #lachrispaul #PhuketElephantSanctuary #PES #EthicalTourism #Phuket #Thailand #Elephants #ForTheLoveOfElephants #MadeeElephant #KannikaElephant

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Instead of rides, shows, baths, hugging or kissing, selfies, or any sort of mockery of the animals, Lek, Rogerson, and Todtane aim to allow the elephants to live their “true life,” which is living in the forest surrounded by nature. At PES, the elephants live in an area that’s as close as possible to their natural habitat. The mission has drawn a flock of celebrity visitors to Phuket. From members of Coldplay to Pretty Little Liars‘ Tyler Blackburn and even Hollywood icon Leonardo DiCaprio, A-listers have shown an amazing level of support for this place.

The three pillars of a tour at the sanctuary are education, interaction, and observation. You start your day by watching an educational video. A quick word of warning: this video is rather graphic, as it captures some of the most inhumane industry practices in an effort to explain why places like Phuket Elephant Sanctuary and their elephant preservation practices are necessary. Next, you’re able to feed the elephants and learn their stories (see below). After the feeding, most visitors simply observe while the elephants relax and socialize in peace. You can walk through the fields with them or simply stand back and watch them go about their daily business.

This hands-off approach is what makes these elephants the happiest in Thailand.

Here’s Where to Stay in Phuket Near the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

The Happiest Elephants in Thailand

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary currently cares for four elephants. Each one was rescued or donated with the goal of giving him or her a better life. Here are the residents you can expect to meet if you visit the sanctuary yourself:

Dok Gaew
Unique Trait: Long, pointy ears
A veteran of the logging industry, Dok Gaew was literally on her last legs when she was relocated to PES from another elephant camp in Phuket. There, she was forced to give tourists rides to the point of exhaustion. In her late 60s, Dok Gaew is the tallest and the slowest-moving elephant at the sanctuary. Look for an elephant with a wide strip of pinky-peach depigmentation on her ears and trunk—that’s how you’ll know it’s her.

Gaew Ta
Unique Trait: Blindness
Known around the sanctuary as “Darling,” Gaew Ta is completely and permanently blind. You can recognize her by her small ears and her white eyes (due to blindness). The founders of PES believe Darling was deliberately blinded by her previous owners, and she was rescued with cigarette burns and scars covering her body. Due to the pain she has experienced throughout her life, she prefers to be alone and doesn’t like a crowd around her.

KANNIKA, ALWAYS UP TO MISCHIEF! If Kannika isn’t snapping the bamboo, she is reaching up high for the green leaves on the rubber trees. She kneels on her hind leg to extend her trunk as far as she possibly can to grasp hold of the branch and bring it crashing down. These leaves are a favourite of Kannika’s and if another elephant approaches, it’s funny to watch as she is possessive with her food and will pull the branch towards her so she can enjoy it all to herself! No two days are the same with Kannika, she is so much fun to be around. ————– To visit, please book through our website www.phuketelephantsanctuary.org/book-here Phuket Elephant Sanctuary – Phuket’s first ethical elephant sanctuary on the beautiful island of Phuket in Southern Thailand. #KannikaElephant #ObservingElephants #PhuketElephantSanctuary #Phuket #ethicaltourism #Thailand #loveelephants #photosofelephants #freedom

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Madee
Unique Trait: A pronounced fold at the top of her ears
Madee, meaning “new beginnings” in Thai, was the first rescue elephant to live at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. Madee is inseparable with her best friend Kannika, and can almost always be seen alongside her. Soon after arriving at Phuket, a veterinarian was treating a wound on her left shoulder when a bullet fell out. She has since been nursed back to health and is enjoying her golden years.

Kanikka
Unique Trait: Pink, depigmentation stripes along the bottom of her ears
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary may have been built for Kannika, the youngest elephant at the camp (she’s in her mid 30s). She belonged to Todtane, who rescued her from years of work entertaining tourists at beaches, hotels, and resorts in Phuket. Since her arrival at Phuket, she has gone from a confused, bewildered elephant with no confidence, to a happy, quirky one.

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