Set in Thailand’s Chiang Mai province, Elephant Nature Park provides a sanctuary to rescued elephants from around the country.
Originally founded in 1990, Elephant Nature Park is roughly 60 kilometers from Chiang Mai city, tucked away in the picturesque hills of Northern Thailand. Serving as a rescue and rehabilitation center for elephants from around the country, Elephant Nature Park is—simply put—the ethical way to enjoy the company of a pachyderm when in Asia.
In Thailand, elephant populations have decreased significantly from 100,000 a century ago to now a measly 3,000 estimated elephants remaining. The decline in elephant numbers is namely due to the animals being used for the tourism and logging industries, which subjects these magnificent creatures to harrowing abuse.
For tourists, riding an elephant or purchasing a painting from a pachyderm may seem harmless enough, but it is the “training” techniques used to have the animals perform such feats that are cause for concern. Mahouts—a term for men who work with elephants in Southeast Asia—often subject their animals to barbaric forms of physical abuse to intimidate, scare, and ultimately break the spirit of the elephant.
At Elephant Nature Park, the rescued elephants who arrive at the sanctuary can often come with broken bones, psychological issues, and baring the scars of years of abuse. The silver lining is Elephant Nature Park fights to save these animals and give them a stress-free environment where volunteers can spend time with the elephants in an ethical way.
From feeding the elephants copious amounts of watermelon to walking alongside them as they meander down the river, to simply watching them play in the mud, Elephant Nature Park puts the focus on the wellbeing of its animals. In short, a visit to this sanctuary is how animal tourism should be: putting the animal first.
Know Before You Go
A visit to Elephant Nature Park requires advance booking online. Volunteers have the option of a one-day visit with the elephants, a half-day visit, or a two-day visit with an overnight stay on the property. If timing permits, it is worth spending the night at Elephant Nature Park to truly experience the beauty of this animal sanctuary and catch some extra time with the elephants.
While the main draw of Elephant Nature Park is the elephants, the sanctuary is also home to cats and dogs that have been rescued from around the country. Elephant Nature Park has additional locations in Cambodia, Surin, and Kanchanaburi with different volunteer programs and lengths offered at each park.