I visited the Happy Elephant Home and I was more than pleased with the experience. I was picked up at my hotel in Chiang Mai early in the morning. After about a 90minutes drive to the north of Chiang Mai we arrived at the sanctuary. Upon arrival we were offered Karen traditional clothing. For one this would prevent our personal clothes to get dirty, but most importantly wearing the sanctuaries clothes won't scare the elephants and they won't get surprised by any strange odors.
Our guide who was already in the car from Chiang Mai to the sancutary with us introduced us to the place, the operation and how the facility works.
All the elephants at Happy Elephant Home are female; three adults and one baby. The adults were rescued off the circus and from private families. Families used to (or sometimes still do) own elephants as working animals. An elephant needs a lot of food and proper care which is expensive. So having enough money to take good care of these majestic animals has always been difficult. Setting the elephants loose is no option as they would cause destruction eating crops and tromping through villages.
As money was tight most people decided to lease their elephants to riding camps. The camps paid them a good price to take the elephants off their hands easing the expensive burden of having to take care of the elephant.
Sadly, most riding tours don't take good care of the animals, abusing them with spikes and hooks, chaining them down and limiting their food.
The idea of Happy Elephant Home Sanctuary and some other elephant sanctuaries is to slowly buy back riding and working elephants that were mistreated and abused.
So these elephants have never been wild. They have already been broken and used for work and will not go back into the wild.
BUT these sanctuaries are giving the elephants an opportunity to to have a good and happy life.
I have also written a separate article on weather to visit a Sanctuary at all, about some pros and cons. You find the article here.
My visit to The Happy Elephant Home Sanctuary
WAS AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE
Once we had our introduction and a briefing on behaviour around the animals we started by preparing food for the elephants. Shortly afterwards we fed them. We were given an endless supply of bananas and sugar cane – they love that stuff!!
After a while the mom and baby elephant made their way to the basin and we followed them. Elephants love to take bathes. It was pretty cool seeing them take their bath in the muddy water, especially the baby was simply adorable. They loved it and weren't in a hurry to get out of there.
preparation of sugar cane to feed the elephants
Around midday we were offered a nice lunch to cool off as it was a very hot day. The elephants rested in the shade. Sometime after lunch we were called as the elephants had made their way towards the river. We were given sugar cane sticks to feed the animals on the way down. The river that divides the Happy Elephant Home and Elephant Nature Park seems to be paradise for the elephants. They went into the water and bathed themselves. We were allowed in with them and it was sooo much fun. Definitely one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I wasn't scared not from the elephants nor the stream of the river – it was just soooo impressive and there is nothing like swimming with elephants!
Once they were all done, they walked out of the water and moved along. We followed them for a little while and watched them enjoy their environment.
After this amazing experience, I felt content knowing that my money went to a good cause and that the elephants seem to be living a relatively good life.
It was an amazing day that I will never forget. Thank you Happy Elephant Home for letting me be part of this tremendous experience!!
I understand that it is not normal for elephants to be in captivity or to interact with humans. In a perfect world, they will live freely on a nature preserve where they wouldn't have any interaction with people. But Thailand and other countries such as Myanmar have a long way to go. Elephants have been poached and captured for decades and this is a good start to promoting responsible tourism. Rescuing abused and mistreated elephants from logging and riding camps is the first start to a very long process. There are still thousands to be rescued. Show the Thai companies you care and stop riding elephants now. Support an elephant sanctuary in Chaing Mai or anywhere in Thailand instead!