Having been raised in South East Asia for over fourteen years, I've encountered elephants on a fairly regular basis - especially as we lived in Thailand. Elephants were everywhere, especially in Bangkok where they were a huge tourist attraction. From Elephants painting pictures to elephant rides, my family have probably see it all but it wasn't until not too long ago that I realised we had been naively contributing towards serious animal cruelty.
So recently when I was in Luang Prabang in northern Laos, the last thing we wanted to do was contribute towards anything like we had inadvertently done in Thailand so many times. The priority was to find a sanctuary and on our first day, we stumbled across the Mandalao Elephant Conservation. Set up by a key member of elephant conservation in Laos, it looks after three or four rescued elephants from logging camps in Laos. Unlike many elephant camps, these elephants are retired and are not rode, or forced to do anything they don't want to. With a limit placed on tourists who see them, there are only one or two visits from tourists each day - with a focus on caring for the elephants where they are fed fresh fruit and then scrubbed down in the river.
Since I was about five, I've loved elephants which is perhaps why I've always wanted to get as close as possible but somehow, I felt bizarrely more connected at Mandalao feeding them and washing them than I ever did sat on their back. Now, the 'tour' wasn't cheap but for the safety of elephants and their conservation, it was worth every penny.
I know that many are critical of such eco-tourism and conservation but in countries like Laos and Thailand where elephants are often poached or would end up in logging camps, things like this are almost entirely necessary.
If you ever head to that part of the world, I would strongly recommend trying something like Mandalao. It just isn't worth saving pennies and going to a camp where the animals are clearly not in a good place.
Have you ever been to South East Asia and seen elephants up close?
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