Elephant Lovers, Head To This Asian Country For One Of The Best Ethical Sanctuaries

Elephants, with their majestic stature and gentle demeanor, have long captured the hearts of animal lovers. However, their endangered conservation status and welfare in captivity have raised significant concerns. One hundred years ago, 100,000 wild Asian elephants were living freely in Thailand — of the approximately 6,000 elephants that remain today, over half are involved in tourism. Fortunately, for those seeking an ethical way to interact with these magnificent creatures, Into The Wild Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand, stands out as a beacon of hope.

Located in the lush landscapes of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a city known for its rich cultural heritage and stunning natural beauty. It's also home to over 30 elephant sanctuaries — but not all of these "sanctuaries" operate equally or ethically. Despite being considered sacred as Thailand's national animal, many establishments force elephants to perform circus tricks, carry tourists on nonstop back rides, or have them serve as mere props for tourist pictures. Elephants are sometimes subjected to cruelty and neglect, chained for long periods, and forced into captive breeding.

However, Into The Wild Elephant Camp distinguishes itself through its ethical treatment and respectful approach to elephant experiences. Since its establishment in 2016, the sanctuary's philosophy has been grounded in the belief that elephants should live in their natural habitat, free from the abuse often associated with traditional elephant tourism. Instead, visitors are offered a unique opportunity to observe and interact with elephants in a way that respects their autonomy and well-being.

The Into The Wild Elephant Camp experience in Chiang Mai

At Into The Wild, the day starts with an informative session by the sanctuary's owner about the elephants' history, behavior, and the challenges they face in the wild and captivity. This educational aspect is crucial, as it helps visitors understand the importance of ethical elephant tourism and the sanctuary's role in conservation efforts.

Visitors can then participate in activities that allow for up-close interactions with the elephants without infringing on their natural behaviors. You'll get to hand-feed them some bananas and, later on, join them on a walk through the jungle, a daily routine that allows these gentle giants to exercise and forage for tree bark, a staple elephant food.

Another highlight is the opportunity to join the elephants during their voluntary bath time in a river that flows through the sanctuary. Bathing in the cool water (with a mud spa treatment to boot!) helps the elephants regulate their body temperature and maintain healthy skin. Visitors are encouraged to help in scrubbing and splashing, creating a playful bonding experience. 

For people who are obsessed with animals, this experience is a must. The sanctuary offers a half-day (1,700 bhat/$50 per adult, 1,200 bhat/$35 per child) or a full-day program (2,400 bhat/$70 per adult, 1,700 bhat/$50 per child). Both include transportation to and from Chiang Mai, an English-speaking guide, a Thai-style lunch, drinking water, and all included activities. The full-day package offers additional time with the elephants and a hands-on lesson in making herbal vitamin balls.

Ethics and sustainability at the elephant sanctuary

The camp's efforts extend beyond just caring for the elephants. It also plays a vital role in community development. By employing local staff from the Karen Hill tribe and sourcing supplies locally, Into The Wild contributes to the region's economic well-being. This symbiotic relationship between the sanctuary and the local community fosters conservation and sustainable tourism.

All the elephants at Into The Wild Elephant Camp are either retired or rescued. From as early as 2000 B.C. and well into the 20th century, elephants in Thailand were employed in warfare and hard labor, specifically the logging industry. A ban on commercial logging was passed in 1989, leaving Thai elephants and their owners without jobs, which has given rise to unethical elephant tourism practices. 

Into The Wild Elephant Camp provides a safe and natural home for these elephants and is considered one of the most ethical elephant sanctuaries by Thailand's Tourism Authority. Ultimately, the responsibility of thoroughly researching and carefully selecting an ethical elephant sanctuary falls on the traveler — a due diligence not to be taken lightly. 

You can book your Into The Wild experience through their website, via WhatsApp (+66834850888), or by calling them (083 485 0888). Make sure to bring a bathing suit, change of clothes, good walking shoes and flip-flops, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a towel for the day. If you are traveling to Chiang Mai, this elephant sanctuary is one of the best places to visit in Thailand