Elephant conservation holiday, Thailand

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Trips last for 1-6 weeks and start every week on a Sunday
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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Elephant conservation holiday, Thailand

Environment

For over 10 years we have been providing volunteers to help at charitable projects around the world. A UK charity has now been launched to build on this success by providing financial assistance to overseas causes as well. The organisations we work with are often struggling to fund the work they are doing so every penny raised makes a real difference.

By volunteering at the Centre you will make a major contribution to elephants in Thailand. Your time and efforts will help to care for the elephants, and the majority of the programme cost will go direct to the Centre providing a critical source of funding for their future work. On a personal level you will have a unique opportunity to work alongside some incredible creatures and gain the satisfaction of helping to make a difference to their lives.

In addition to this direct benefit, we try to ensure:

Social responsibility - before volunteers depart we provide them with a detailed information pack on the area they will be visiting. We try to educate and encourage our volunteers to understand and respect the local cultures and customs and get involved with local communities.

Economic responsibility - the majority of the fee that volunteers pay goes directly to the Centre. The Centre provides employment for many local Thai staff. While volunteers are in-country, we encourage them to buy locally and support local businesses.

Environmental responsibility - one of the main negative impacts of our volunteers travelling, is the carbon dioxide created from flights. We work with a 'carbon neutral' charity to help ensure that an amount of carbon is sequestered through tree planting or the promotion of low energy technologies. While our volunteers and customers are overseas, we identify and encourage simple steps to minimise their impact on the local environment.

Community

Educational tours are organised for young school children at the centre, the team believe that the education of the next generation is critical to the survival of the endangered species, and conservation of wildlife as a whole. They also educate the local community on poaching which is a commonplace in rural areas.

The centre actively campaigns for better animal treatment in Thailand including issues with illegal pet trading, hunting and poaching and the use of animals within the tourist industry. They distribute educational materials to travel agents in Thailand to ask them to stop endorsing places where animals are used for entertainment, and in particular they have led campaigns against ‘Tiger Temple’; a formerly popular tourist activity, which has been exposed for its cases of animal cruelty. The centre often works in collaboration with local authorities including the Royal Forestry Department to confiscate animals from markets or illegal traders.

Elephant training is among the oldest jobs in the world. In the past and still today, a single mahout is assigned to each animal, forging a close bond that often lasts for life. In the past the job of a mahout was a hereditary profession often extending over several generations and bringing a certain social status with it. At present however, this is a lot less common and essentially the job of mahout is to earn a living from the elephant, which too often results in its exploitation.

By offering the mahouts full time employment and job security, the centre are able to show the mahouts that they do not need to exploit their elephant to earn a living. Changing the culture and mentality towards animal welfare in Thailand is a much longer process. If mahouts think that tourists will only pay to ride elephants then this will encourage abuse, if however local mahouts come learn that tourists will visit Thailand to simply see the animals and to help prevent wildlife from suffering, then gradually a change in mentality could possibly be achieved.

Reviews of Elephant conservation holiday, Thailand

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.

I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 11 May 2011 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Being with the elephants and their handlers. Having the big bull elephants walk past you, just inches from your face, leaving you to feel completely small and vulnerable as these pre-historic like mammals move by with grace, softness, power and majesty!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be open-minded and integrate yourself beyond your immediate circle of volunteers. Get out of your comfort zone!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes, volunteers help the staff (locals) with their day to day job (ie mucking out elephant pens) plus it helps strengthen their knowledge of the world, English language and communications skills.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent holiday. Best done by yourself, which definitely pushes you to be open and ready for anything.

Reviewed on 04 Jan 2010 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Volunteering at the Wildlife Friends of Thailand Elephant Sanctuary, what a wonderful educational experience and to feel you are putting something back into the preservation of these magnificent creatures.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Learn the basic Thai Language like thank you, hello, goodbye etc. Visit the countryside and get out of the cities. Don't visit tourist places that force animals to perform tricks etc. For example the tiger temple and several other elephant safaries. When you delve deeper you find out how these animals are really treated and by visiting it's promoting the illegal trade and interbreeding of these animals in very poor, cruel conditions.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes certainly.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


9/10. By assisting with the animals and donating (which covers your board and keep) volunteering with their native species was a very rewarding experience and hope to come back yearly. Would strongly recommend it. Beats sitting by a pool and shopping for fruitless items in large outlet stores.

Reviewed on 07 Apr 2010 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


2 things.
Interacting with the elephants was a great experience. Washing and scrubbing them is a thing I’ll never forget.
The people I have met, local people and the volunteers. I made some good friends.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be prepared for the heat if you work on the elephant project. March/April is very humid. Drink plenty of water.

Pack plenty of plasters as bites can be a problem around legs and ankles. There is a pharmacist in the village.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Just by shopping in the village helped benefit the local people.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


A great experience. I haven't travelled alone before but I soon made friends and the staff were great. I would recommend to anybody who wants to 'give something back' in our take all society. Good for personal development.
Just good fun!

Reviewed on 19 Apr 2009 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Falling off an elephant while giving it a scrub in the lake!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Go for more than a week!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I think this holiday benefits the animals more than local people and I doesn't so much minimise impacts on the environment as tries to make up for effects that humans have already had. It is definitely a worthwhile holiday allowing you to give something back to the country you are visiting.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


I feel very lucky to have had so many fantastic "one off" experiences.

Reviewed on 23 Mar 2009 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Walking the elephants to and from the forest where they spent the nights.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be prepared to get your hands dirty, and work fairly hard! But it's very rewarding and hugely enjoyable!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes, particularly benefitting the animals at the centre but also the mahouts and other Thais working at the centre - new accommodation for them was being built while we were there.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Excellent!

Reviewed on 19 Jun 2009 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Being so close to the elephants was fantastic. You really do spend all day with them, feed them and even have bath time with them!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Take as many antiseptic wipes and mosquito repellent as possible. Being so close to the animals means all types of bugs are around so you are more likely to get bitten throughout the day as well as night.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Whilst at the conservation certain volunteers went to a nearby village after a report that a tiger was seen near family homes. If a tiger was found then the conservation would have caught it and brought it back to the conservation for treatment and a new home. It was then I realised that the conservation is benefiting the community as well as wildlife.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


The conservation is fantastic for looking after wildlife and the local community, but the cleanliness of the volunteer bedrooms/bathrooms and the overall running of the conservation was disgraceful. I arrived on a Sunday evening and missed dinner so went to bed on an empty stomach. I was not introduced to any of the volunteers when I first arrived. The bedrooms were in a disgraceful state as the conservation relies on the previous volunteers to clean the room before they leave. Their toilets are traditional Thai (as in no flush but use a bucket and water) but they were blocked so had faeces on the bathroom floor. The long staying volunteers were not friendly to short staying volunteers and there was an obvious divide. I became very ill on the second day after one of their taxi drivers gave me contaminated mango and then I had a mosquito bite that became infected because of working near elephant faeces but when I told the volunteers who run the centre they just said get some cream from the pharmacy and cover with plasters. I was told to bring a mosquito net for my bedroom but it took 3 days for someone to put it up for me, there were no hooks provided so I had to wait for help. The only support I got from the conservation were fellow short staying volunteers. I was meant to be at the conservation for 2 weeks but after 5 days felt so ill that I left and had to organise alternative plans for a week in Thailand before my flight home to the UK. I know that I am not the only one who was disappointed with the conservation. There were many volunteers who left earlier than planned the week I was there. The main reason why people were disappointed was because what the organisers had described about the conservation and involvement with wildlife was completely different to reality. In the booklet it said we were required to have Rabies and other vaccinations to stay at the conservation, but whilst at the conservation no one actually checked any such documentation, you have to pay more than £100 for the ‘required’ vaccinations so you expect them to check you had had them. There were a lot of dangerous animals around the conservation, such as scorpions and snakes, but no one told us what to do if we found one or if someone was bitten - no safety talks whatsoever which to me is essential when in a foreign country with animals that you rarely get in your home country. Also I was told we would be able to finish volunteer work at 2pm each day and would be able to have time off to travel to other places, but when I arrived at the conservation I found that we had to work 6.30am to 5.30pm every day and was only allowed 1 day off a week. For the conditions you have to live in and the long hours you are required to work I do not believe I should have paid the amount I did for a 2 week stay and would love to have a refund for the week that I did not stay at the conservation purely because of ill health but I was told a refund was not possible.

Overall, extremely disappointing and needs a lot of improvement at the conservation if wanting to keep volunteers with them for the time they have paid. If possible I would like to make a formal complaint as I am deeply disappointed what I was told before going on this trip was completely different to when I arrived in Thailand. I look forward to hearing from you with your complaints procedure.

Read the operator's response here:

I would like to say again that we were extremely disappointed to read your feedback on the elephant project in Thailand as we take negative feedback very personally and we want all volunteers to have the best experience possible. It also came as a surprise as we ask for feedback from all of our volunteers and the overwhelming majority of feedback we get is incredibly positive about the centre, with over 100 volunteers working on the project in 2008.

1. Information provided to you - the information we give about the placement is based on the time we have spent at the centre, input from the staff at the centre and feedback from our volunteers. Through our feedback forms over the last 5 years our volunteers have confirmed that the information is fair and accurate. Having gone through your points we can't find any major discrepancies in the information we provide and we would consider it normal to receive more detailed information on arrival. The 'rules' you refer to are in place to protect volunteers in an environment working with wild animals and elephants, and also to help ensure that volunteers can live together harmoniously.

2. Immunisations including Rabies - we do not state that Rabies is required but we have since clarified that it was your GP who that told you to have it, I'm sure acting in your best interests just trying to make sure you were as protected as possible. Regarding the other immunisations, the reason for having them is for your own protection and health, and it is at the centre's discretion if they feel they need to ask for proof, which in most cases they don't as they trust volunteers will protect themselves appropriately.

3. Working days and hours - we do clearly state that it is a six day working week. I understand from our communication that the main issue is that you had to work 6 days before having a day off. This is normal for a short volunteering project and I would have thought that it would be expected that you would have to work 6 days before having your day off if you had only just arrived. I'm sorry if this wasn't clearer. Regarding the hours again I'm sorry if you thought the day would finish earlier leaving you more free time, but volunteers are always asking us to give them as much time with the elephants as possible and to help with other jobs so we try to ensure there is a always a full days work available. The centre relies on the efforts of volunteers to get the many jobs done so the work can be demanding.

4. Your arrival at the centre - I am surprised by your comments as according to the centre they had saved you some dinner and did give you some introductions, including where there is information about health and safety at the centre. It is a very long and tiring journey to Thailand, especially with the extra travel to the centre, so we do find that in our own experience things can seem more negative than they actually are. I'm sorry if there was any negative feeling from other volunteers and you will see the centre's comments about this, it's a major challenge for them to have so many people from different backgrounds working together but on the whole volunteers are extremely friendly and supportive to each other.

5. Your room - as you will see from the centre's comments volunteers are asked to clean rooms but they do also do cleaning. I would also like to add that the accommodation at this centre is of a much higher quality than most other animal volunteer projects in Thailand, although obviously lower standard than a hotel. I am very sorry about the blocked toilet which can not have been pleasant. The centre responded to this quickly and understood that the matter was resolved. Regarding the mosquito net, we would normally expect volunteers to help each other with this sort of small job, I'm sorry you feel you had to wait for someone to come and do it for you.

6. Your illness - I'm especially sorry you became ill, and one thing we have often found from looking after volunteers overseas is that perceptions can completely change when someone isn't feeling well. I can not agree though that you became ill from contaminated mango given to you, I can't see that you would know and if you did know it was contaminated I can't understand why you ate it. The fruit in Thailand is very different to the UK and mango is often eaten when it is green and unripe so is quite different. People can react quite strongly to a new environment and foods. I'm also sorry you had a mosquito bite that got infected but again you can not assume you got this from working near elephant faeces, due to the hot climate in Thailand it is very easy for bites to get infected. The centre gave you sensible advice, to get some cream and plasters, and were there to help further if needed.

Overall I feel you came to the centre with a different set of expectations than that of our normal volunteers and I'm very sorry the project didn't work out for you. We work with the centre because they are doing important work caring for rescued animals and elephants. Feedback from all of our volunteers confirms this but at the same time volunteers do need to recognize that the centre is set up primarily for its work of caring for animals not as a tourist lodge. The centre did try to get you to stay for your second week but ultimately it was your choice to leave to go to the beaches instead and I really hope you enjoyed your remaining time in Thailand.

Reviewed on 06 May 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Working in a rescue centre helping locals and animals specially elephants who were mistrated. Hotels afterwards were great and good value for money. Hua Hin area is relaxing, beautiful and people are great. Their culture is amazing. We looking forward to come back to Thailand.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Don't be afraid to eat where Thai people eats. Food is great, and try to speak their language as they are so grateful and you will have better response from them.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Of course but because of the long fly I can't agreed with the enviroment friendly, so if you ever go there, try to go for as long as posible.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Outstanding

Reviewed on 16 Jun 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Seeing the elephants emerge from the forest for the first time was amazing! Getting in the water with them was great fun too. It was just a privilege to have the opportunity to work so closely with the elephants and their mahouts, who were also so much fun! The pineapple picking was one of the best workouts I have ever had - be prepared to work to the point of physical exhaustion - saying that though I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly arriving back at the centre with a full truck of pineapples as the elephants come thundering after you! The baby elephant was just delightful and great to work with too.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Thick working gloves are a must for the pineapple picking and the dung collecting! Be prepared for lots of breaks during your working day which can sometimes be hard to fill as there is not a lot to do in the local vicinity. The living conditions are basic and sometimes dirty - no air con, hot showers or flushing loos here, so just be aware. You quickly get used to it though!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I feel my holiday directly benefited the centre by providing an income, and our custom in the local village I am sure is appreciated locally. I do not feel that it minimised impacts on the environment in any way.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


I met some great friends from all over the world whom I will never forget, and I got to work up close and personal with elephants which was what i most wanted to achieve. Of course, I cannot fail to mention the 3 mahouts, whom were so much fun and really made my trip complete.

Reviewed on 12 Jun 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The most memorable part for me was watering the baby elephant. She would fill her trunk and would then blast the water all of herself to get clean! Like most of the animals at the centre, she had been mistreated in the past, having previously been taught to rock back and forth "dancing" for tourists - it was so rewarding to watch her behave like any other elephant and proves what a difference the centre makes.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Don't be shy... get talking to the other volunteers & you'll soon fit in. If you think you need to go to the hospital, don't wait for the centre staff, take yourself - believe me, I know! Take a bit more spending money than recommended for nights out in Hua Hin!

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


It certainly benefited the local animals, and to a lesser extent the local people, such as the locals that were employed at the centre and the local shop keepers that benefited from the increased trade. As far as possible, impacts on the environment are minimised and the centre is striving to do more than merely minimise impacts, by developing projects such as their tree nursery and a huge forest regeneration project, amongst others.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


I had a truly amazing time and this really was a holiday of a lifetime... although having said that, I'm already planning to go back!

Reviewed on 20 Oct 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Washing the elephants in the watering hole and getting to know them. They all have very individual personalities and neither of us had ever been so close to such huge animals.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Take lots of clothes that you're prepared to ruin (although the laundry service is very good). Take gardening gloves - preferably that have rubber on the inside bit as you pick up a lot of elephant poo.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


The holiday benefited animals in Thailand as opposed to the people but the set up is very environmentally friendly. Not much waste, lots of recycling etc. Local people were employed in the centre.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


We really enjoyed our time with the elephants but felt that there were too many volunteers to do the work required and at times we got the work done in a matter of minutes and then had nothing to do. We feel that they should limit the volunteers to around 6 per week to give a better experience. There were other opportunities around the centre but it wasn't obvious what needed doing and there was a definite split between the wildlife rescue and elephant groups so we didn't feel all that comfortable asking. The living accommodation very basic and we would have paid a little more for better facilities ie a sink in the bathroom, hot water etc. Overall though we had a great time. The elephant group were great and we all got on well and spending time with the elephants will be one of the highlights of our trip.

Reviewed on 09 Mar 2007 by

I had an absolutely amazing time in Thailand on the 2 week elephant conservation holiday. To be so close to these magnificent animals was simply breathtaking. There are so many memories that I have taken back home with me; the great people that I met to swimming with the Elephants in the lake in front of the centre. The local people are so friendly and welcome all the volunteers into their community with open arms.

I would advise those who go on this package to follow the advice given especially regarding female clothing - the centre is on the grounds of a Temple and as such females should have their shoulders and midriff covered at all times. This is not to be prudish but as a mark of respect for their religion.

If you get an opportunity, as I did, to help out on the Wildlife side of the Centre then take it; working with Elephants is great but the primates provide other experiences and challenges (Gibbons have especially long arms so watch out if you have long hair as they like pulling it.)

This has probably been the best holiday I've had (although I need another one to recover) and have recommended it to my friends. I was never into the typical beach holiday but this has sparked a new interest in me and I will always look at volunteer holidays in the future.

Thanks for a great experience that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Reviewed on 22 Oct 2006 by

Click to enlarge Thailand elephant conservation holiday photo Click to enlarge Thailand elephant conservation holiday photo Click to enlarge Thailand elephant conservation holiday photo Click to enlarge Thailand elephant conservation holiday photo Click to enlarge Thailand elephant conservation holiday photo
(click photos to enlarge)
I can honestly say that it was an absolute honour to be so close to such gentle majestic creatures and the mahoots were great fun too once we got them out of their shells.

Picking pineapples for the elephants has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world because of the hot sun and lack of shade. But yesterday I went with new elephant volunteers and just took pictures and film until the end when the going gets really tough. These pictures you may well want to see... but will have to wait til Koh Phangan to sort that out...

Although my trip was with elephants, they are on the same site as a Wildlife Rescue Centre and the volunteer house (which we all share) can be very busy and noisy at times. There was a chaotic feel to it but overall they were great kids (mainly teens to mid 20s).

The whole centre is on Temple grounds. Being female I had to cover myself up and take a man with me as females are not supposed to talk to the monks (and definitely not touch them or pass anything directly to them). But on my first visit I was completely overcome by the peace and realised how much I missed the Buddhist 'bit' since returning west in June this year. On my second visit to the Temple 2 days ago we were given a full tour and also gifted a small Buddha statue each. It was an awesome and very peaceful place... (my friend is planning to spend his next day off sitting in front of that shrine meditating all day!). Again there are photos...

I'm not sure if I will get back to this part of Thailand again but those elephants were such a gift. And over the course of 2 weeks I was able to see their individual personalities. One thing they all have in common is a dislike of dogs. Which is unfortunate as there is a pack known as 'the elephant dogs' (as opposed to the 'volunteer house dogs') and they love to run with us in the jungle.

Each elephant has a slightly different response when the dogs get too close but the most exciting/hair-raising event occurred when our pack ran into another pack and a big fight broke out. The snarling was less than 100ft ahead of us on the same road. All 3 elephants came to an emergency stop and the youngest (and most lively) started banging her trunk hard onto the road, really slapping it down, and then she started to trumpet loudly. And all the time we were yelling at our elephants to stop (just incase they were getting ready to charge off anywhere! and they were definitely thinking about it...)

So now I have some very useful Thai language skills. I can tell a person/elephant to go forward or backwards, to come to me, and to lie down (in the lake!). Just hope the children on my next project [of the teaching placement] are more responsive than the elephants are...

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