What is Sanctuary?
Defined as 'a place of refuge or safety', a sanctuary (ethical project, or rescue centre) should be putting the welfare of their elephants first, with safety for both the elephants and the visitors of paramount importance. This means that visitors should not be offered elephant rides, shows, bathing, mud bathing, should not be allowed to hug the elephants' trunk, sit or lie on the elephants, put their hands or even their head in the elephant's mouth, and there should be no loud noisy groups or crowding around the elephants.
The ultimate Sanctuary offers a 'hands off' approach, giving the elephants their freedom to live in peace.
Wild elephants live in the Asian rainforests or the plains of Africa, this is their natural home. Sanctuaries, rescue centres and ethical projects should be offering their captive elephants a life as close to the wild as possible, and your elephant experience should resemble this.
When is a Sanctuary
not a Sanctuary?
The use of the word 'ethical' and 'sanctuary' has become very popular across Asia and can be misleading as many projects use this terminology to entice visitors.
If your activity includes playing with baby elephants, smothering mud on an elephant, throwing buckets of water or getting in the water with the elephants, then your chosen project is not putting the elephants' welfare first. These activities are only for visitor interaction, not for the elephant.
If mahouts (elephant handlers) are constantly shouting, controlling the elephants very closely (often with hidden nails), or pulling their ears, then you are not at an ethical project or sanctuary.
If the mahout tells you that it is normal for the elephants to sway their heads in a bobbing motion, that they are happy and dancing, then you are not at an ethical project or sanctuary. When elephants sway their heads repetitively, this is a clear indication of stressful behaviour