Khao Sok National Park in Thailand’s southern Surat Thani Province is known to have a number of wild elephants. The herds live deep in the park’s pristine forest and roam freely in the elephant sanctuary. It’s not often that visitors get to see them in their natural habitat.
Luckily for guests staying at Anurak Community Lodge, which lies on the edge Khao Sok National Park, there is another way to get up close and personal with these gentle giants and learn about their behaviour, individual quirks, eating habits, and even assist mahouts in helping to scrub and bathe them during our ethical Elephant Experience.
For centuries, elephants have played an important role in Thai society to such an extent that the Thai elephant is the national emblem of the kingdom. Historical records first show Thai elephants used during the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great of Sukhothai. He ruled the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1279 to 1298 and used the elephants in war skirmishes as well as for royal ceremonies. Slowly, Elephants were trained to perform heavy labor.
In the 1970s and 80s, when logging was prevalent in Thailand, elephants hauled heavy logs through the forests. Their sheer strength and intelligence made them ideal for heavy lifting. Oftentimes, they suffered serious injuries and were poorly treated. As heavy machinery was brought in, Elephants started to become more popular as a tourist attraction. By offering rides to tourists, the constant riding leads to elephant spinal injuries. Sadly, most elephant camps more interested in turning a profit rather than caring for these gentle creatures.
At Anurak Community Lodge, our Elephant Experience is quite the opposite: we do not support animal cruelty in any shape or form and do not work with elephant camps that offer rides to tourists, where the animals spend most of their lives chained up.
Taking a different approach, we provide guests with the opportunity to interact directly with these gentle animals. In addition, the elephants at the sanctuary have often been rescued from places where they were poorly treated. Some spent their whole lives doing manual labor and are now too old to work.
Our Elephant Experience begins at the elephant preserve with introductions about the Asian elephants. Led by the camp’s leader, you’ll meet each of the elephants. These camps are unique in that they may only have two or three elephants to care for, ensuring that the elephants get lots of personal care and attention.
After the introductions have been made, guests can slowly approach the elephants and feed them their favorite snacks, like bananas and other fruits. They spend much of their time grazing in a large open field, but become much more animated, once they know they’re going to get special treatment and food from guests.
Once feeding is over, take a short work with the elephants through the camp’s picturesque grounds to a large pool, where the elephants love to frolic. Not only is this an opportunity for the pachyderms to cool down, but the mud helps to keep ticks and other pesky parasites off of these large animals.
Once the elephants are wallowing in the pool, guests have the option to jump in with them and help the mahouts scrub them down. It’s an amazing experience getting up so close to these huge creatures, who love the attention and having their backs scrubbed. Joining the mahouts in the pool is optional, but for those who wish to have a go, it’s recommended to bring swimwear, or a spare set of clothes you don’t mind getting wet.
We end our excursion by feeding them a few more bananas before saying goodbye. The whole Elephant Experience takes between two to three hours, but it will bring you much closer to understanding these intelligent gentle creatures, and the importance of elephant conservation initiatives.
Because these elephants are often older, the elephant experiences are limited to only four times a day with small groups no bigger than 7 people. This ensures that the aged pachyderms get plenty of rest and enjoy their days comfortably in the park.
If you’d like to know more information about our Elephant Experience, get in touch with us here.