Anantara’s Elephant Camp

Steve and Liz aboard their elies under the watchful eyes of the mahouts. Photos by David Lansing.

As part of our stay at Anantara we get our choice of activities each day which include: a spa treatment, Thai cooking school, a private excursion of the Golden Triangle, or an elephant experience.

Of course, everyone wants the elephant experience the first day. Which is what we did as well.

The elephant experience consists of going to the elephant camp that’s a part of the resort and learning from the mahouts—their care givers—how to instruct the animals to bend down and let you climb up on their back. Then you’re told how to make them stop and go, turn left or right, and bow down to allow you to slip off their forehead and down their trunk.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this sort of thing. Dolphins were not put on this planet so we could swim with them, killer whales should not be smoozing with little kids holding frozen mackerel in their hands, and elephants probably should not be carrying tourists on their backs. But here’s the deal: These are “rescued” elephants. Rescued from what, I don’t know. As you might imagine, it costs a lot of money to house and feed and provide medical care for an elephant. The money to do all that comes from the fees of tourists who come to the resort. In exchange for the fees tourists pay, they want to ride the elephants. And when they get to learn how to train an elephant and ride it, they’re more likely to make an additional donation to the elephant camp.

So it’s a conundrum. And I’m just enough of a hypocrite to say, No, I won’t ride an elephant because I don’t think it’s right but I’ll go along so I can get some good photos of those of you who want to do it.

I know, right? Sleazy.

So off to elephant camp we went. We were told the elephant safety rules by a young volunteer from Minnesota who had been working at the elephant camp for all of two weeks. The 13 elephant safety rules were printed on a large wooden sign and were read aloud. I won’t go over all of them with you, but I would like to point out just a couple.

Rule 5: Be careful when an elephant stand up, it swings its legs and rolls its body a lot.

Rule 10: In the water, stay away from the legs and trunk—if you fall off in deep water, swim away from your elephant.

Rule 6: Never climb on or jump off your elephant while they are moving.

And with that, the elephants were released from their tethers by the mahouts and one by one our little group climbed aboard.

Elephant camp, Anantara

The group after having successfully passed mahout training. Photo by David Lansing.


Do as I say, not as I do: A mahout crouched at the feet of two elephants. Photo by David Lansing.

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  1. Allan’s avatar

    Elephants also have really thick hair which can pierce the skin, so wear heavy clothes.

    When I was eight years old I came home to find an elephant in our backyard. The circus was in town and my father thought it would be fun if when I came home from school I could invite my friends over for elephant rides.

    If you are ever tempted be warned” elephants shit bowling balls and will eat all your flowers and shrubs or trap them down.

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