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Samui Elephant Sanctuary gives suffering animals a brand new life.

Samui Elephant Sanctuary gives suffering animals a brand new life.For many visitors, coming to Thailand means enjoying the tropical flora and fauna and seeing sights that they wouldn’t otherwise see back at home. Elephants are part of this. Indigenous to the country, they’ve been here for thousands of years, and are part of the culture. At the same time, many aren’t to be found roaming the forests at liberty but are captives, working for human owners. People hold different views about this, but what everyone can agree on is the fact a lot of elephants need help due to maltreatment. That’s why there are various organizations in Thailand that are there specifically to help elephants in distress.


You’ll find elephant sanctuaries up and down the country. And, right at the beginning of this year, Samui Elephant Sanctuary opened its doors to look after elephants on the island that are in distress. With every month that passes, the sanctuary is evolving thanks to its founder, Khun Wittaya Salangam, and his staff.


Khun Wittaya says, “At the moment we have five elephants at Samui Elephant Sanctuary. Cartoon, Kham San & Sri Nin (all aged between 50 - 60 years old) who are from Koh Samui. Then we have two much younger elephants who are best friends Nong Pech (six years old) and Moloair (nine years old). They’re both from Surin province.”


Up until coming to the sanctuary, all these elephants lived out horrific existences; now they have new lives which they obviously enjoy. When you’re at the sanctuary, you’ll see them basking in the waters of their large swimming pool and playing with each, other or just being affectionate. Naturally, their medical needs are looked after too;Samui Elephant Sanctuary gives suffering animals a brand new life. elephants who come to the sanctuary can expect to receive treatment for injuries and also for chronic conditions. Elephants in Thailand work in the logging industry, beg for food on hot streets and are used as entertainment in circuses as well as for rides. For some, their owners can be extraordinary cruel; widespread animal abuse is reported and is well-documented. More and more people are questioning the fact that elephants have to work at all.


The sanctuary is open to the public, and exactly as you’d expect, it’s not the kind of place where hundreds of people flock to every day, as this would be stressful for the elephants. It’s an oasis of calm, not a zoo with crowds rotating through areas where they can glimpse animals in pens and cages. Guests can expect to get some insight into elephants’ natural behaviour, especially the way in which they inter-react with each other. Because of this, guests aren’t allowed to frolic with them in the swimming pool – this is standard in some other places. It goes without saying that there are no rides allowed. But you’re encouraged to feed the elephants and observe them. They tend to make up their own minds how they want to spend each day, and so guests are asked to abide by their decisions. Samui Elephant Sanctuary gives suffering animals a brand new life.As you can see, this isn’t a regimented place where guests follow a set routine. It’s instead a very relaxed program complete with an introduction to the work that Khun Wittaya is doing. The elephants are treated in their new home with great dignity. He says, “We work with our herd using positive reinforcement through food and we turn our backs on the traditional use of the bull hook and cruel training techniques.”


If you would like to visit, you will be made extremely welcome, but you’ll definitely need to book ahead as visits are by prior appointment only. The sanctuary stresses that they can’t accept guests simply turning up at the gates. Once you have booked, you’ll be able to go on a three-hour tour. They’re run twice daily: the first is from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon,and the second is from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The cost is 3,000 baht for three hours, inclusive of lunch/dinner, transport, drinking water, a guided tour by an English-speaking guide and an unlimited amount of bananas to feed the elephants.


The sanctuary is supported by Save Elephant Foundation, a Thai non–profit organization that operates an approach using local community outreach, rescue and rehabilitation programs and educational operations. If you would like to see elephants being treated as elephants, and not beasts of burden, then this is definitely one place to go. Meanwhile, all over the world in places where they live, elephants need your help and support.


Dimitri Waring


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