Wildlife Projects & Sanctuaries

Our Policy on Wildlife Projects and Sanctuaries

Like most lovers of wildlife, our ideal would, of course, be a world in which all animals and wildlife experiences were just that – wild. The reality, however, is those days are gone and the region is unfortunately littered with parks, camps, zoos, and even “tiger temples”. Sadly, many of these are run by organisations and individuals who have little interest in the welfare of animals and whose motivation is exclusively centred on visitor numbers and chasing profit.

Having said that, there are still authentic and wholly responsible wildlife experiences to be enjoyed in Asia and, although these have become increasingly rare, you can - with the correct research and expert advice - still enjoy the natural world and much of what it has to offer. 

We admit that in the past we have offered what we now, unfortunately, know to have been less than acceptable experiences but we have learned from this and our criteria for inclusion has been significantly strengthened. The reality is that many people want to see and interact with animals on their travels. That is why we invest considerable time to develop on-going research and rigorous audits to help ensure a vetted and carefully chosen selection of wildlife-based experiences can be a part of the holidays we create.

We fully appreciate this can be an emotive subject – and rightly so. We hope, therefore, the following will allow you make an informed decision as to whether you want to include an animal or wildlife experience as part of your trip.

• We believe tourism - when controlled, operated and managed responsibly - plays an essential role in the preservation of the Asian elephant and other endangered species.

• We offer wildlife camps and experiences only when we’re entirely satisfied with their management and operational procedures (and we stringently monitor them).     

• We know responsible, well-run camps play an important part in wildlife conservation and education.

• We believe ethical camps have a vital role to play in supporting local communities.

• The only opportunity we offer for elephant riding is at the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp. Our reasoning behind this is covered in some detail below but we’d be very happy to answer any questions you may have

• And, finally, we work closely with local partners and talk regularly to our clients to monitor and review what is offered and, where necessary, we work with those partners to address any issues of concern that may arise.

Why does Selective Asia continue to offer things such as elephant camp experiences when so much concern has been expressed about the way in which many are known to operate?

We don’t believe a ban on wildlife experiences and, specifically, visiting elephant camps (as suggested by some animal welfare organisations), is the way forward. This can’t guarantee certain animals would be treated any better; it removes the powerful role education can play in animal conservation, and a ban could impact on communities socially, financially and culturally. Only one of the camps we use allows any riding of elephants - and that (the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp) utilises techniques informed by stringent welfare standards and in which the animals are never forced, coerced or “punished” for the entertainment of tourists.

You can’t be checking on these camps all the time so how do you select and then monitor them?

As we’ve said, we spend a lot of timing visiting the countries we feature and – of course - feedback from our clients is absolutely paramount. The selection criteria we use is comprehensive but put simply it is about offering experiences where the welfare of the animals is ultimately the only consideration and where the provider can tangibly demonstrate it is delivering and supporting animal-friendly venues.  We work with a very small number of elephant organisations in total, all of which focus on education, welfare and conservation. Our managing director has personally visited all but one of these and our UK based team and local offices visit the organisations on a constant basis.

But how do you actually choose which camps and experiences you offer?

We regularly (usually once a year) carry out an extensive audit of our wildlife programmes. This typically involves the experience of our staff while “on the ground”, our local partners and, of course, comments we receive from clients. In the past this had led to several changes to the programme and, crucially, identifying camps and experiences with which we would never do business.

Don’t you need different selection and evaluation criteria for experiences that are truly wild and those offered by camps, lodges and sanctuaries?

That is a good question and, yes, we do treat these differently. For the former, only two things matter – that the operator behaves responsibly in ways detailed above and that the well-being of the wildlife and the protection of the natural habitat are at the heart of everything they offer. For camps, lodges and sanctuaries, the criteria get more complicated. However, in summary it is about: the responsible sourcing of animals; the on-going welfare of those animals; a focus on education and conservation, not tourism and entertainment; a commitment to local communities, and independent accreditations by the foremost international animal welfare authorities.

So, should we include an animal camp or experience in our holiday plans?

We believe this is a personal preference but we know many people are passionate about animal welfare.  Should you want a wildlife experience, we have done everything within our power to ensure we only offer those providing the highest standards.  Because the world changes quickly and, sadly, there will always be unscrupulous people out purely for financial gain, our monitoring is stringent, on-going and non-negotiable. Ultimately, the natural world is beyond precious and we believe experiences and education delivered ethically and responsibly is incredibly powerful.  We feel our policy is the best way to help ensure the welfare of animals, support local communities, promote awareness and, crucially, provide the eyes and ears that can identify and report those who abuse their position.

How can you ensure the places to which you send tourists are ethical and responsible?

This isn’t easy - we’re the first to acknowledge this is an often complex challenge. New camps can spring up with great regularity and, unfortunately, many will not have ethical or responsible people behind them. Our team of experts spend much of the year travelling – and that includes regular visits to the small, carefully selected number of wildlife camps and experiences we offer.  

If you hear a camp or wildlife experience isn’t up to the highest standards what do you do?

If we’re not one hundred per cent confident a wildlife experience adheres to the highest ethical standards we simply won’t include it in our programme. If appropriate, we would also report anything of concern that comes to our attention to the necessary authorities.

Aren’t many of these camps and experiences crucial to the livelihoods of local communities and, therefore, open to exploitation?

We believe that’s an over-simplification. Of course there are people who have no interest in the health, well-being or happiness of an elephant or orang-utan and are purely out to line their pockets. However, there are communities all over Asia where the skills and knowledge gained over centuries are crucial to animal welfare, especially in areas where a species may face significant danger to its numbers or even its existence.

What do you mean by that? It sounds rather vague?

In many parts of the world you simply can’t separate animals from people – often they are linked by thousands of years of expertise, knowledge and understanding.  Take, for example, Laos.  This country has always been known as the Land of a Million Elephants, but some research suggests there are now fewer than 2500 elephants across a combined wild and captive population. Allowing visitors to experience elephants within a semi-wild environment that adheres to international husbandry standards, where the operation is fully transparent, and the animals are always humanely treated and never used merely as a vehicle for the “entertainment” of yet another group of tourists can be an extremely powerful in tool in terms of promoting education, awareness and understanding.

What about those animals who end up in these camps, lodges and sanctuaries? I want to know more about how they’ve got there?

That is also our primary concern when including a camp, lodge or sanctuary in our programme. The responsible sourcing of animals is absolutely crucial and we focus on the following: the emphasis must be on animals in danger; the life of the animal must be improved by it being moved to the facility in question; with elephants, a focus must be placed on animals that are being rescued from cruel and barbaric treatment in logging camps, those that are seriously unwell or being “used” by street beggars and, in addition, animals being saved from mass tourism camps in which they are overworked in the quest to get as many visitors through the attraction as quickly and as profitably as possible for the operator.

Elephant Valley Project Cambodia 
: Semi-wild elephant project (no riding of elephant)
Location: Mondulkiri, Eastern Cambodia 
Wildlife focus: The team at Elephant Valley Project focus on animal welfare and protection, allowing visitors to observe the herd interacting in their natural, wild environment.
The Project: There is no direct contact between visitor and elephant permitted. However, those attending for either half- or full-day, will follow close to the herd, observing how they interact with each other and how the mahouts care for them. Some of the profits from the project also help to fund E.L.I.E, a non-government organisation working to improve the health and welfare of the captive elephants in Mondulkiri Province, preserve the wild elephant’s natural habitat, and support local people who work with these magnificent creatures.
Review & inspection: Selective Asia has personally visited the project and we remain in regular contact with the organisers.

Elephants World 
Type: Semi-wild Elephant Project (no riding of elephant)
Location: Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand
The Project: Founded in 2008 by Dr Prasitphol, the sanctuary cares for sick, old, and abused elephants - often rescued from illegal loggers or from beggars on city streets. The sanctuary's aim is to ensure the elephants receive the rest and care they deserve, no matter what their age, and strive to fulfil their motto of “we humans work for the elephants, not the elephants for us”.
Research & inspection: Selective Asia has personally visited the project and we remain in regular contact with the organisers. 

Elephant Valley Thailand 
: Semi-wild elephant project (no riding of elephant)
Location: Near Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand 
Wildlife focus: The team at Elephant Valley focus on animal welfare and protection, allowing visitors to observe the herd interacting in their natural, wild environment.
The Project: Closely modelled on the practices and ideas of the renowned Elephant Valley Project in Cambodia, elephant care and conservation are at the heart of the project’s ethos. There is no direct contact between visitor and elephant permitted. However, those attending for either half- or full-day, will follow close to the herd, observing how they interact with each other and how the mahouts care for them. Half of the profits from the visit fee go into a fund to protect wild Asian elephants and their habitat with a long term goal of reintroducing captive Asian elephants back into the wild.
Review & inspection: Selective Asia has personally visited the project and we remain in regular contact with the organisers. 

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
Type: Semi-wild elephant sanctuary (no riding of elephant)
Location: North-east Phuket, Thailand
The Project: Inspired by the work and philosophy of the renowned Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand, the sanctuary opened at the end of 2016 and is essentially a 30-acre retirement camp for sick, injured, and old elephants that have been working in the country’s logging and tourism industries. The sanctuary’s focus is firmly on animal welfare, conservation and encouraging ethical elephant tourism. Guests can visit for an educational half-day experience that involves feeding and walking with the elephants; observing how they interact with each other from a respectful distance.
Research & inspection: Selective Asia has personally visited the project.

Elephant Hills
Type: Semi-wild elephant project and activity camp (no riding of elephant)
Location: Khao Sok National Park, Thailand
The Project:  This is a short visit educational and interaction camp. For ethical reasons, Elephant Hills does not offer any elephant rides. Instead, it offers unique elephant experience in which guests get to feed, wash and interact with the animals, making for controlled, intimate and rewarding encounters appreciated both humans and elephants.
Research & inspection: Selective Asia has personally visited the project and we remain in regular contact with the organisers.
Award Winning: Elephant Hills regularly picks up awards and nominations for its product. They have won the Thailand Green Excellence Award for Animal Welfare every year since 2014 and were Asia's only finalist in 2016's National Geographic Traveller World Legacy Awards in the category "Conserving the Natural World".

Elephant Conservation Centre
Type: Semi-wild elephant project (no riding of elephant)
Location: Sayaboury, Laos
Wildlife focus: The project focuses on education and animal welfare as well as working with the mahout communities of Sayaboury and Hongsa provinces.
The Project: Founded and run by two European vets Gilles and Sebastien (both long established in Laos and committed to the cause), the Elephant Conservation Centre is dedicated to helping elephant victims of logging accidents and those affected by disease. There is no riding of elephants, you simply learn about the herd, their care and welfare as well as the plight of the Laos and Asian elephant. This is an exceptionally responsible set-up that helps educate other camps and regional committees.
Review & inspection: Selective Asia has visited the project, have worked with Gilles and Sebastien for many years and remain in regular contact.

Elephant Transit Home 
Type: Semi-wild/wild elephant orphanage with a focus on returning orphaned elephants to the wild. 
Location: Uda Walawe, Sri Lanka
The Project: The Elephant Transit Home in Sri Lanka, run by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, rescues orphaned elephants and returns them to the wild when they are ready, providing a humane alternative to taking abandoned animals into permanent captivity. The Born Free Foundation supports the general running of the facility and helps make sure the orphans receive the milk, care and medical attention they need.  There is no tourist interaction with the orphans for fear of creating an unsafe environment from which elephants are returned to the wild. However meal times can be watched from a sufficient distance.
Research & inspection: Selective Asia has personally visited the project and we remain in regular contact with the organisers.

Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp
Type: Semi-wild elephant sanctuary (riding of elephants is allowed under controlled circumstances).
Location: Chiang Saen, Thailand
Wildlife focus: Since 2003, the Anantara team have provided sanctuary to elephants at risk from the streets, logging or tourist camps, and now supports more than 25 elephants and 60 people (mostly the mahouts and their families – providing housing, education and life training). The camp also instigates and oversees ‘bigger picture’ projects that create better conditions for all of Thailand’s elephants. They have registered the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation to further their conservation work across South East Asia and to ethically use guest donations. 
The Project: The Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp uses the revolutionary approach of ‘target training’ rather than any negative or punishment based training systems. This is based on positive reinforcement for the elephants. Through the use of a target pole and short verbal commands, the elephant is expected to move in the wanted position. When the elephant cooperates, it is given a treat. The Anantara camp’s ultimate aim is that, through the deployment and extensive training of these techniques, the Asian mahouts’ more traditional methods of intimidating and controlling elephants, often through the use of force, can be changed. To this extent, the Anantara team and the The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation work with numerous other camps across the region, holding workshops to promote better practise and techniques. The extent of elephant riding is strictly controlled. Anantara works closely with the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group and is independently audited to comply with Travelife welfare standards.  
Research & inspection: Selective Asia has personally visited the project and we remain in regular contact with the organisers.

Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp
Type: Semi-wild elephant project (no riding of elephant)
Location: Kalaw, Myanmar
The Project: Essentially a retirement camp for elephants that have been working in the region’s logging industry. Founded by a local couple with a tourism background, with the assistance of a retired veterinarian uncle, the project aims to improve the welfare of ex-logging elephants, whilst educating tourists and the local community on these mighty animals. With the guidance of the mahouts, visitors are able to feed and bathe the elephants. The mahouts may sometimes allow a guest to sit on the elephant, mahout style, but this is on limited occasions and under controlled circumstances that are favourable to the elephant. In late afternoon the elephants are guided back into the forest where they roam freely overnight. 
Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp also has a forest re-plantation programme and every visitor assists by planting a tree.   
The mistreatment of elephants in Myanmar is rife and GHV are the only organisation doing anything about it. By supporting this organisation, we hope that it will encourage others to follow suit, potentially improving the lives of the many hundreds of elephants that are not so fortunate.        
Research & inspection: Selective Asia has personally visited the project and we remain in regular contact with the organisers.

Type: Semi-wild elephant project (no riding of elephant)
Location: Near Luang Prabang, Laos
The Project: Spread over 40 acres of prime elephant habitat, MandaLao was set up to offer visitors an interactive and meaningful elephant experience, with a focus on education and animal welfare. The sanctuary is home to seven elephants, including a baby, who have spent the majority of their lives working in the region’s logging industry. In addition to providing the best environment possible for the resident elephants, the project is working to rescue more elephants from logging operations and protecting those still in the wild.
Research & inspection: Selective Asia has personally visited the project and is in regular contact with the organisers.

Tiger Tops
Type: Elephant camp & eco-lodge
Location: Adjacent to Chitwan National Park, Nepal
The Project: Established in 1964, Tiger Tops was the first wildlife tourism company in Nepal with an environmentally responsible ethos and a conservation-based tourism model. In 2015 the company took the decision to cease all elephant-back safaris - the first and only property in Nepal to do so. Elephant welfare standards were reviewed; large, spacious corrals were built over 18 acres of the property allowing the herd to roam, socialise and relax; and the guest experience was re-designed to offer guests an empowering, interactive, elephant experience. Activities including walking alongside the herd, observing the elephants bathing in the river, helping prepare elephant snacks and interacting with the mahouts. With the assistance of visiting elephant professionals, veterinary scientists and animal behaviourists Tiger Tops are continuously improving the welfare standards of their resident herd. 
The elephants & their mahouts: Currently Tiger Tops is home to 15 elephants, 2 of which are retired. As working elephants they transport goods to and from the jungle as well as being used for conservation initiatives in tandem with the government. Tiger Tops do not sell their retired elephants, but continue to look after them and their mahouts until their passing. Being a mahout is a profession steeped in Nepalese tradition and Tiger Tops are committed to offering a regular source of income for their mahouts, many of whom have worked with them for over 30 years, some on the same elephants they started their careers on.
Research & inspection: Selective Asia is in regular contact with the Tiger Tops team.

National Parks of Asia

In addition, there are numerous National Parks and fully wild animal experiences we include in our holidays. These can, of course, be uplifting and enlightening, making a large contribution towards the success of a trip.

Selective Asia - Policy on Wildlife Projects and Sanctuaries