When asked about the highlights of my 3 months in Thailand, this is definitely one of the first things that come to mind- playing with a baby elephant in Chiang Mai!!
Ever since my recent visit to South Africa and witnessing a herd of wild elephants drink out of my pool, I’ve been a bit obsessed with these friendly giants, so this was a dream come true!!
See the footage below 🙂
After posting this video to my Instagram, I’ve been getting hundreds of comments and questions asking about my experience, so I wanted to use this blog post answer them all!
First and foremost… What sanctuary is this & is it humane?
This was at Patara Elephant Farm, and YES, it is a humane elephant sanctuary! I did 2 hours of research before deciding on Patara, because I had noticed from reading reviews of each place that even though a sanctuary claims it’s humane, there can be some shady practices going on behind the scenes.
I ultimately chose Patara because:
- They don’t use bullhooks to train the elephants (many “sanctuaries” do so do your research!), only vocal commands and positive reinforcement. I also liked that each elephant has their own personal trainer, which loves and cares for them from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to sleep.
- They don’t tie up their elephants with ropes or chains and they roam freely.
- They don’t force breeding upon the elephants
- They only allow interaction with rescued elephants after they have mentally and physically recovered fully from their previous abuse (about 2-3 years)
- They don’t allow “trekking chairs” to ride elephants, which is harmful, heavy and painful on an elephant’s spine, only bareback riding around the neck, which doesn’t harm or bother the elephants in any way!
- They offer ETHICAL interaction with their baby elephants (keep reading for more on this)!
Where was the mother when this was happening & how do they get the elephant to do this?
The mother is actually the elephant behind me in the frame, eating the branches on the ground! The baby would come over to play then go back to nurse, all on the baby’s own will and under the supervision of a Patara trainer. The mother was 100% comfortable with the human interaction and was roaming freely and grazing as her baby interacted with tourists. The reason for this was that the amazing people at Patara saved her baby, who was born prematurely and had very little chance of living, and therefore has been cared for by humans since birth. As a result, both the mother and baby have a deep affection for humans and feel extremely comfortable being around them together.
How did I get the opportunity to experience this & what did my day with the elephants entail?
The answer to the first question is that ANYONE visiting Thailand can! I participated in the “Half Day: Elephant Daycare” program at Patara, which I really recommend because it’s not only cheaper, but you still get to experience everything you would in a full day, just for less amount of time. First, you get introduced to their baby elephant where lots of cuddling takes place, as you can see from my video😊 Then, I got paired with my own trainer and his personal elephant he cares for, who I got to feed, bathe, and ride bareback, while getting lessons in between on how to care for him and train him. As the day goes on, you create a very loving and trusting bond with your elephant, so even though I didn’t get to spend the full day with him, it was still such a special and rewarding experience. The price was 3,800 Thai Baht/person (or ~$108) and worth every cent!!
Other words of advice- Please do your research before visiting sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and make sure they’re actually humane, like I said before! No bullhooks, no whips, no overtiring the elephants, etc. Reading people’s reviews of places really helped me choose the right one! Also, read the visuals signs: Happy elephants = flapping ears & wagging tails! Mistreated elephants = pacing back and forth & tails raised. Educate yourself so we don’t exploit these amazing animals through tourism, but instead contribute to their well-being!!! 😊😊😊