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For the Love of Elephants: What to Know About Responsible Elephant Tourism

In honor of Earth Day, we’re celebrating organizations that support and promote responsible elephant tourism, positive animal interactions and collaborative wildlife rescue and conservation efforts in Africa, Thailand and beyond.

Contact Indagare to learn more about arranging trips with responsible animal interactions. 

With their imposing stature but gentle mien, elephants are majestic and beloved creatures. In pop culture, they have long been depicted as generally quite adorable and adoring creatures—Elephanchine, Babar, Tantor, Horton, Hathi and Dumbo. And despite their size, they have been known to dance,  dispense good advice and have good judgment in the long run, even if they are sometimes prone to being vulnerable. They may be imposing, but they generally appear to have genial dispositions. In India, the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesha represents beginnings, wisdom, knowledge and prosperity. Although pop culture representations may not seem quite as meaningful, there’s nothing quite like seeing an African elephant in its natural habitat, as I did during my journeys to Tanzania and Rwanda. Whether they’re in Africa, Asia or India, watching them eat by pulling plants, bushes and twigs from their surroundings, soaking in their grandeur and protective instincts as they travel through the tall grasses with their children—in the wild—can be a surprisingly moving experience.  

With all this in mind, here at Indagare, we believe that it is imperative that we consider the ethics and responsibility of elephant-related experiences and conservation programs, when recommending properties or organizations to our members and subscribers, whether we are booking your trip or sharing new information on our website. We do not recommend or support properties or organizations that promote elephant-riding or elephant-human interactions that put the elephants at physical or emotional risk.

As a result of COVID-19’s devastating impact on travel and tourism all over the world, especially in areas where elephant populations are threatened by poachers, abuse, malnourishment (and now, especially, a lack of tourism dollars), many of the trusts and foundations we have highlighted here need support to survive and support their animal populations. From our on-the-ground experiences, as well as our continued research, Indagare has identified the properties and organizations that are dedicated to getting it right. When it is safe and responsible to travel to more remote destinations, we look forward to being able to ensure responsible animal interactions. In the meantime, here is more insight into the work they are doing.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Nairobi, Kenya

Who They Are
Established in 1977 by Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, in memory of her late husband, conservationist David Sheldrick, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is one of the oldest, most well-established non-profit organizations in East Africa. Working in conjunction with the Kenya Wildlife Service to safeguard wildlife and protected areas in Kenya, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is most known for rehabilitating orphaned elephants, with the mission to reintroduce them into the wild. (The foundation also protects black and white rhinos across Kenya.)

Open to the public for one hour per day, between 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., visitors can watch as the baby elephants play together, drink milk or bathe. All the while, one of the Trust’s Keepers will give a talk for visitors on conservation and the Trust’s practices and mission. In this regard, the visit is intended to be at once educational, informative and fun

Evening visits, at 5 p.m., are also available for those who choose to “adopt” an elephant. Both visits, morning and evening, should be booked well in advance. The Indagare Content Team is currently fostering Wanjala, a rescued  (formerly abandoned) male calf.

How You Can Help
While direct donations are always welcome, consider becoming involved in the Sheldrick Foundation’s “foster parent program,” which supports the Trust’s Orphans Project. For a minimum donation of $50 per year, you can adopt an orphan currently in the Trust’s care. This is a digital program and foster parents (or the gift recipient, should you prefer to offer this as a gift), will receive a monthly update on their elephant by email. 

Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF)

at Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Who They Are
This gorgeous Four Seasons property designed like a safari camp is set on a lush elephant sanctuary in the Golden Triangle, where Thailand intersects with Laos and Myanmar along the Mekong River. Working hand-in-hand with the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF), led by Founder John Roberts, the Four Seasons offers guests the opportunity to interact with elephants on a guided walk along the river or during bath time. 

The primary goal of the foundation is to rescue elephants from poor working and living conditions throughout Thailand, facilitate financial independence for mahouts and their families, fund research on elephant education, and protect the Cardamom Mountain elephant corridor. The ultimate aim of the foundation is to eliminate the need for any elephants to be rescued, and for all elephants to be safe and comfortable in their natural environments. 

How You Can Help
As with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, GTAEF has an adoption program that enables supporters to engage with the elephants on the property: Linda, Plum, Yuki, Thongkum, Maemoo, Kumtul and Boonma. The minimum sponsorship level is $50 per month, and this helps offset the $18,000 per year cost to look after a single elephant. 

 

More Responsible Elephant Experiences
Outside of David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, we’ve included a few of our other favorite properties and organizations that advocate responsible elephant experiences, whether that’s viewing from afar, in the animals’ natural habitats, or something slightly more interactive. Our staff has vetted all of these programs firsthand.

Camp Jabulani – Kapama Private Game Reserve, South Africa

Chief’s Camp – Okavango Delta, Botswana

Abu Camp – Okavango Delta, Botswana

Dera AmerJaipur, India

Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Mandalao Elephant Conservation Luang Prabang, Laos

Mwiba LodgeSerengeti National Park, Tanzania 

Somalisa CampHwange National Park, Zimbabwe

Related: 13 Bucket List Adventures for Animal Lovers 

Contact Indagare to learn more about arranging trips with responsible animal interactions. 

 

 

– Avery Carmichael on April 22, 2020

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