One of the things at the top of our Thailand bucket list was an elephant sanctuary experience. It was incredible getting close to these gentle giants, all of whom were rescued from abusive environments. We saw a few during our time in Phuket who were obviously being mistreated, so it was great to contribute to an organization dedicated to rescuing them and educating the population.
A few things we learned the Elephant Sanctuary: All of the elephants at the sanctuary are female. They are usually upset when they arrive and go through an extensive acclimation process. 90% of Asian males have tusks, the remaining 10% are (as the guide put it) “lady boys.” All of the elephants bear scars from their mistreatment. They all seemed happy and well-adjusted in their new environment. Elephants in captivity typically live quite a bit longer than elephants in the wild. This is because they eventually lose their teeth and can no longer chew. In captivity they are fed mush and vitamins that sustain them.
At the beginning of our elephant experience we learned how to feed them, either by placing the food in their trunks or in their mouths. They clearly preferred the watermelon to the bananas. Then we were walked through the a vet examination process. Each day they examine a different elephant, rotating them so they have a good baseline of their weight, growth, and overall health. Finally, we went to two pools for “sexy time” with the elephants (again, the guide’s term – he was quite the comedian). The first pool was quite shallow, basically a mud pit. They gave us brushes and hosed everyone off so we could bathe the elephants. Then they walked us to the real pool where we could swim with the elephants. They rolled around in the water on their sides and got quite playful. It was something else!