What Elephants Want You to Know: A Quick Guide
Guest post by Katie Losey
1. Ivory is lame unless it’s on an elephant. Help us convince the world of that.
The consumer has the power. Refuse to buy ivory.
Ivory trinkets are not keepsakes. They are the death sentence for a remarkable creature and their production contributes to the deaths of countless rangers who sacrifice their lives to protect the elephants against ivory poachers. Purchasing ivory also impacts local communities whose livelihoods are connected to elephants and the tourism industry. There is a direct link between ivory, the illegal wildlife trade and terrorism. The groups participating in illegal wildlife activities are funding terrorist acts through money received from ivory trafficking. Whether you’re from New York, Beijing, or Bangkok, you have power to change this by not buying ivory.
2. The simple secret to saving elephants? Go to Africa and see them.
You’ll know what we mean when you see elephants doing what they’ve been doing for 55 million years. You’ll feel like they can read your mind as your eyes connect. You’ll hear them squeaking and trumpeting as an old friend cruises up to the herd, followed by a trunk hug. You’ll laugh at little ones stumbling over themselves chasing a dragonfly. You’ll get maternal pangs watching one flee under her mama’s belly to avoid sunburns and grab on for a snack! If you’re like us, you’ll be mesmerized watching them walk tail to tail along tracks they’ve walked since the dawn of time, inadvertently planting seeds stuck in the pads of their feet and creating drinking pools with their giant footprints as they go. Your heart will grow bigger with them in it.
These are the life stories we go to Africa to see.
By going on an African safari you help preserve the landscape and everything connected to it, including the elephants. For one, you’ll return wanting to protect this place. Secondly, you’ll be impacting Africa’s bottom line by providing residents with a livelihood. Your visit is proof the chance for you to see an elephant alive brings in more money to the local community than her future as an ivory trinket. This is vital stuff when the elephant poaching crisis and the death numbers are so big they are hard to fathom: 33,000 elephants are killed a year for their ivory. One every fifteen minutes. But, as the brilliant Dereck Joubert breaks down, wildlife is worth more alive than dead. This is meaningful. Everyone who touches your trip in some way will benefit from it, from the person who leaves you coffee and biscuits by your tent at dawn to the guide who explains why dung beetles are so rad. The effort and money you spend will have endless dividends.
3. Avoid trained elephant acts in Asia
Whereas most travelers in Africa appreciate elephants from afar while on safari, most interactions with elephants in Asia are with domesticated elephants. They suffer from lack of habitat, exploitation for labor or tourism activities and abuse by owners. We know these are complex issues that won’t be solved overnight. But our participation in them could.
On behalf of all elephants participating in the circus, elephant painting, elephant soccer, performing tricks for bananas on Bangkok’s dizzying streets—please stay away. Here’s why. We share this because what may seem harmless isn’t, and involves disturbing backstories.
A lot of the time wildlife dictates where I travel, so on my first trip to Thailand I had one thing on my mind: riding elephants. Years later I came across this article that changed me overnight. I had no idea, like so many others. When I returned years later I spent time with Lek Chailert, a Thai woman changing many lives at her elephant sanctuary. It’s encouraging to see new ways to connect to elephants that speaks to something more meaningful in them and us.
ETHICAL ELEPHANT ENCOUNTERS ARE OUT THERE. HERE ARE SOME OF OUR FAVORITES.
Hands down, our favorite way to get to know elephants
No website, textbook, or YouTube video exists that can give us the visceral connection we feel seeing elephants in their natural world, relaxed, as though we’re not even there. Go on a safari. We want you to fall in love, and you will, and you will be better for it.
Walk with elephants |Abu Camp, Botswana
We’re happy to report this year the Abu team is walking away from elephant-based safari experiences (riding on the back of the elephants) and instead are focused on engaging guests by walking with the herd. We can’t stress enough how much more enjoyable this is (for both you and the elephants). A bonus? When walking with the herd, you also get to chat with the elephant caretakers and get deeper into their backstories, possibly the most fascinating part.
Help an orphaned elephant | Kenya
One hour at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust will give you a million more reasons to love elephants. We bet you’ll come home with one (you can foster one here and then see him or her to cap off an African safari). Learning the reasons why each orphan is there is tough, but meeting the elephant handlers who have stepped in to give them the love they need to survive will lift you back up.
Meet deeply-informed experts | Kenya & Botswana
Dereck & Beverly Joubert are National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence who dedicate their lives to writing, researching, innovating, photographing, filming, speaking, thinking, and working creatively to protect wild places and what lives there. Visitors to Great Plains Conservation lodges may even bump into Beverly & Dereck. The worlds that these creatures (the Jouberts included!) show us is bigger than we can put on this page. Check out their recent documentary film “Soul of an Elephant” for a preview of what you may see in person.
Meet the Game Rangers International Team | Kafue National Park, Zambia
This is a chance to go where many people haven’t and get involved with a remarkable conservation project. Learn from the people putting their lives on the line to protect what they love, and spend time at their ranger stations, elephant nursery, veterinary project and community outreach programs.
Live with elephants | Sanctuary Stanley’s & Baines’ Camp, Botswana
Picture this: you’re eating lunch under the cool of a baobab tree, and Jabu reaches down and steals a carrot, then later that afternoon you’re walking in the bush, and Thembi notices something to be wary of in the distance and alerts you. This is just another day for Sandi & Doug, an American couple so passionate about elephants they’ve dedicated their lives to living with three in an effort to save the rest. (We have a million questions for them. Stay tuned for our talk with this remarkable couple.)
Bornean Pygmy Elephants are real! Go see them | Malaysian Borneo
Although orangutans may be Borneo’s most popular resident, pygmy elephants deserve a big shout out. Exploring Borneo’s legendary 130 million year-old virgin rainforest from the Borneo Rainforest Lodge is one stunning place to see them, though sightings are rare. This spring, Absolute’s Lauren Wright was fortunate enough to come across a herd of pygmy elephants cooling off near the Kinabatangan River. “The greatest moment: watching two juveniles vying to be the first into the water, followed by some playful elephant wrestling captured here,” says Lauren.
Go on safari with the largest congregation of elephants in the world | India
This spring Absolute’s Wendy Goldsmith enjoyed an Indian safari in Nagarhole National Park, home to some of the most prolific wildlife in India. By visiting Nagarhole, you have the chance see the Asian elephant in the wild as well as other curious creatures like the sloth bear, leopards, dhole (wild dogs) striped hyena and Royal Bengal Tigers.
BLES | Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary | Thailand
We have heard about BLES for years, mostly through our friends at Veterinarians International who have spent considerable time with this honorable project. In their words: BLES is passionately devoted to creating a safe and natural home for Thai elephants. We care for rescued and retired elephants, allowing them to interact freely within 500 acres of forested land. There are no performances — just elephants.
Stay at a Floating Tented Camp & Meet Retired Logging Elephants | Thailand
Whereas many Asian hotels lead with linens and design, Elephant Hills exists to improve the lives of elephants in Asia, and in the process has created a new and enriching way for you to interact with their eleven retired logging elephants who are lucky enough to call this place home. As a guest, you have the chance to watch them cool down in a mud bath, followed by scrubbing them down with coconut fibers between canoe safaris and trekking through the rainforest.
One of Holly’s Favorite Elephant Experiences in Asia | Thailand
Holly Monahan is regarded in the travel world for her in-depth knowledge of Thailand (this week she was named to Travel + Leisure’s A-List again) and one of the reasons people depend on her is her honest advice regarding elephant interactions. One of her favorites? Patara Elephant Farm. Clients have become so attached after bonding with their elephants all day that they have cried when they have to say goodbye in the afternoon. Ask her why.
Wild Asian elephants | Cambodia
Lack of space means wild Asian elephants are very rare. We are big fans of Wildlife Alliance who helps to protect the Southwest Elephant Corridor, one of Asia’s last. We created this trip with our partners at S.A.F.E. to help.
Katie Losey is Director of Marketing for Absolute Travel.