In addition to its existing programmes which includes a short, non-intrusive feeding interaction, the sanctuary is launching a new, 100% hands-off programme for elephant enthusiasts who are happy to simply observe the animals in their natural habitat.
“My ultimate dream is for our rescued elephants to live together as a herd in an environment that truly resembles their natural habitat and way of life – an environment where visitors are merely observers and learn about the elephants’ history and important role within our ecosystem,” explains Montri Todtane, founder of Phuket Elephant Sanctuary.
“While we will continue to offer programmes that include a short, non-intrusive feeding interaction for the time being, the new hands-off experience gets us one step closer to realising this dream.”
The hands-off experience starts with a scenic drive to the Tree Top Lounge, where visitors are shown an educational documentary to prepare them for their visit and to understand why Asian elephants need to be protected. They then meet Madee and Kannika, the sanctuary’s first two elephants, before helping the team to prepare supplementary elephant food khao tom mat (sticky rice, mashed bananas, coconut meat, salt and sugar wrapped in banana leaf).
While the nutritious snacks are steamed, visitors explore the sanctuary with an experienced tour guide and observe the elephants as they roam around, forage and bathe freely. The delicious khao tom mat packets are then delivered into the jungle, where visitors can sit quietly and observe the elephants as they devour their nutritious food. The visit ends with a sumptuous, Thai vegetarian dinner buffet for visitors back at the Tree Top Lounge.
A proud history
The sanctuary has rescued and rehabilitated 12 elephants back into a tropical, 30-acre jungle where they can roam around, socialise and bathe freely in fresh water lagoons while visitors observe them from a respectful distance and learn about their stories from passionate tour guides.
The sanctuary currently also offers a short feeding interaction as part of its half-day and full-day programmes. Only elephants that are happy to engage in a short encounter take part in the feeding activity.
Many of the elephants living at the sanctuary do not have any interaction with visitors. These include Gaew Ta, a lovable 58-year-old blind elephant, and Sroy Fah, a 45-year-old elephant who previously suffered from abuse in riding camps and has not fully regained her trust in humans.
“It has always been our mission to give the elephants the freedom and space they deserve after decades of hard work in logging camps, shows and riding camps,” says Montri.
“Since our opening, interaction with the elephants has been limited to a short feeding moment as part of every tour. We do not offer bathing or any other form of interaction with the elephants in order to respect their freedom and to offer visitors an opportunity to observe elephants engage in their beautiful, natural behaviour.”