Thai sanctuary takes ‘hands-off’ approach to elephant interaction

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, which is a final home to elephants who have worked their entire lives in the logging and tourism industries, has launched a hands-off programme for elephant enthusiasts to just observe the elephants in their natural habitat.

The Hands-Off Experience at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary 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 Kannika and Madee, the sanctuary’s first two elephants, before helping the team to prepare supplementary elephant food – khao tom mat, which consists of sticky rice, mashed bananas, coconut meat, salt and sugar, all wrapped in a large banana leaf.

Tourists giving the elephants the freedom and space they deserve after decades of hard work

While the nutritious snacks are being steamed, visitors explore the sanctuary with an experienced tour guide and observe the elephants as they roam around, forage and bathe freely. The sticky rice packets are then delivered into the jungle, where visitors can sit quietly and observe the elephants as they devour their food. The visit ends with a Thai vegetarian dinner buffet for visitors back at the Tree Top Lounge.

The sanctuary also offers a short, non-intrusive feeding interaction as part of its existing half-day and full-day programmes.

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary’s founder Montri Todtane said: “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. 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.”

Since its opening in late 2016, the sanctuary has rescued and rehabilitated 12 elephants back into a tropical 12ha 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 the elephants’ stories from tour guides.

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