Bathing and feeding rescued elephants @ Chiang Mai, Thailand

Gabrielle Koster

This was one of the coolest things I’ve done so far during my trip through Southeast Asia. For a full day, I got to feed the rescued elephants, take care of them, bathe them and cuddle with them.

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Did you know: elephants have a highly developed brain and they can actually cry. When I stood eye to eye with these big animals, I felt so small. They curiously look at you (they’re mostly checking if you have food, which the elephants and I have in common: always on the lookout for food) and are so very gently, even though they are so big and powerful. The baby elephant (yes, there was a baby elephant!) was a little less careful and if someone walked in his way, he pushed them over. I thought that was great, because it reminds you that these animals are wild animals and, in the wild, they’re not used to interaction with humans.


These animals are rescued from riding places, circuses or other places. For wild elephants to be tame and used to humans, they need to be tortured (I’ll spare you the details). There are still so many tourists that ride elephants, and I personally think it’s because not everyone knows about the cruelty behind it. So if you want to ride an elephant, remember that the elephant needed to be tortured before it can be tame enough to ride. Then there’s the thing about their spines, which you can read more about here.

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If you choose for a real sanctuary (and there are a lot of bad sanctuary’s), a part of the money will go to the caring of these elephants ánd to the ethnic minorities (tribes) that care for the elephants. Usually, it’s still not a lot of money that these places are getting. I’ve met two volunteers from Spain and New Zealand. Their mission was to help the elephant camp become independent. The majority of elephant parks in Chiang Mai are owned by one or two big-business owners. This camp, called Ethical Elephant Sanctuary, is different. They are a family owned company who have been looking after elephants for generations – not simply when it became profitable to do so. They rely heavily on the Karen community (the local trib) for the success of the sanctuary and are committed to giving back. Unlike most elephant sanctuaries, their main concern isn’t profit. They reinvest money they receive to give the elephants the best lives possible and to rescue more elephants from hardship. Booking can be done through

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I’m so grateful for this experience and for the growing awareness when it comes to animal cruelty ?❤

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