For decades, elephants in Thailand have been forced to work exhausting hours in the logging, trekking and tourism industries. Use of bull hooks and chains, and lack of basic shade or cover from the elements, have all added to the appalling treatment of these gentle creatures.
A couple of months back, I had the pleasure of visiting a small, yet beautiful haven for rescued elephants while on holiday in Koh Samui.
Samui Elephant Sanctuary was established in January early 2018 as the first elephant sanctuary on the island of Koh Samui. The sanctuary offers eight hectares of lush green land for a small group of rescued female elephants. (Elephant bulls require a lot more space, so the decision was made to only keep females here.)
Samui Elephant Sanctuary’s concept of elephant care and welfare is inspired and supported by Lek Chailert, world renowned elephant conservationist, founder of the world-famous Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.
Watch this short video of Samui Elephant Sanctuary Founder, Wittaya Sala-Ngam, as he explains why he established the first ethical elephant home on Koh Samui.
Although my experience at Samui Elephant Sanctuary was tinged with sadness as we learnt about the lives of pain and maltreatment these beautiful animals had endured before their arrival there, it was truly heart-warming to see the way the staff team and volunteers care and nurture them. They shared their passion with us as the elephants roamed around the park in their own time, of their own free will; swimming in the purpose-built pool or bathing in the mud pond when they wanted to.
Led by park guides, Ja and But, we met each of the elephants, all between the ages of 46 and 61, who had only started to experience the peace and joy of sanctuary life in their most recent years. We were able to feed and walk with all five of them; Khum Phean, Kaew Ta, Mae Kham Kaew, Kham San and Cartoon, who was the first elephant rescued here and started this sanctuary. A few really loved a little pat.
While the Thai Government prohibited logging in 1989, the increase in tourism and holiday makers looking for an elephant experience over the last thirty years has not really reduced the level of abuse Thai elephants are subjected to.
More education and information for travellers and tourists in recent years is leading to a better understanding of truly ethical elephant parks and those that are not. The decisions we make can directly influence the demand for captive elephants and their treatment as commodoties.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that a number of years ago I rode on an elephant’s back and bathed with them, at what I mistakenly thought was an elephant sanctuary. However, armed with better information and a stronger understanding, I can now make more ethical travel decisions… which is what led me to Samui Elephant Sanctuary.
Personally, I’m disappointed that I had been misled in the past about appropriate elephant-human interaction and that I had not questioned things further. However, as Maya Angelou said, ‘When we know better, we do better‘, and I definitely know better now.
Despite the work happening in today there are still an estimated 4,000 elephants living in terrible situations across Thailand. Saving and providing sanctuary for troubled Thai elephants isn’t cheap work. It can cost up to 1-2 million Thai baht (THB) to rescue an elephant. And these incredible creatures eat 30,000-40,000 THB worth of food every day, including pineapple leaves, bananas and cucumbers.
So today, on Thank You Thursday, I give an elephant-sized shout out to Lek Chailert for paving the way in elephant conservation, Wittaya Sala-Ngam for his passion for founding this beautiful place and all the team and volunteers at Samui Elephant Sanctuary for their love of the creatures in their care.
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick.