Ever wanted to get up close to elephants? Yet seeing them in the distance at a National Park just did not do it for you? Or perhaps you have ethical issues with trekking on, riding, petting or feeding, captive elephants? Well, we recently visited a place where you can spend a day amongst the elephants (wash their back even) without the usual ethical concerns. We’re talking about the Wildlife Rescue Centre and Elephant Refuge operated by The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT).
Located just 50 or so kilometres north-west of Hua Hin near the village of Tha Mai Ruak in the Phetchaburi region, it’s a simple one hour drive (or even closer from Cha-am) and is a fantastic day trip. Or at least that was our experience.
Since it’s inception, the centre has rescued over 5,000 wild animals and provides full-time care for almost 1200 animals. The majority of these animals have been abused and exploited for profit and human gratification. This animal mistreatment often takes place in the tourist industry. For example, photos with ‘wild’ animals (e.g. infamous Tiger Temple), animals performing in degrading shows, as well as elephant rides, elephants camps and shows, and elephant trekking. Additionally, there is still a thriving illegal trade in wild animals for pets and medicine, with most of these animals taken unlawfully from their natural habitat.
WFFT was founded in 2001 by Edwin Wiek with the help of the local people from Phetchaburi province, including the Abbot of Wat Khao Look Chang who donated a large parcel of land so the centre could be established. The centre has expanded its local land footprint over time with the acquisition of neighbouring properties thus allowing for an enlargement of facilities including a new state of the art elephant hospital. In recent time WFFT has extended into Laos where they now operate another world-class animal rescue centre. Learn more about WFFT here.
A group of four friends booked ourselves on the ‘full-day experience’ at the Wildlife Rescue Centre and Elephant Refuge. Their promise – to enlighten us about Thailand’s wildlife, its beauty and its problems, and how this centre is leading the way in wildlife conservation and animal welfare education in Thailand.
What we experienced was a day, full of stories of the many animals we met. Often sad or even heart-wrenching stories. These animals who having been rescued from horrific captivity or entrapment are now experiencing a new life. Either recuperating before being released back in the wild. Or enjoying their new ‘home for life’ in a safe environment, as close to nature as WFFT can achieve.
We did get up close and hands-on with a pair of elephants which we fed and washed. We visited with bears, orangutans, gibbons and dusky langurs, plus spent time with several more groups of rescued elephants. Care for the animals is provided by a team of dedicated volunteers and full-time staff.
Our full-day experience cost 1,600THB per adult which is not a cheap day out. We were reassured that the fees for the day tours go directly into the centre’s conservation programs. From what we saw, monies were certainly being reinvested in these facilities. Starting at 10:00 am our personal guides for the day provided access to and informative tours of the Wildlife Rescue Centre and Elephant Refuge plus the Elephant hospital. We also enjoyed a quality Thai food buffet at the newly built onsite eco-lodge “I-Love-Phants Lodge”.
In the afternoon we were driven around newer sections of the ever-expanding centre. Going behind the scenes to see the volunteers go about preparing food and enrichment activities for the various groups of animals. We also visited other elephants as they went about their day – simply being elephants in their ‘as close to natural as possible’ enclosures.
Our day concluded at 3:30 pm with smiles on our face and a great sense of satisfaction. Glad that we had made the effort to visit WFFT’s Wildlife Rescue Centre and Elephant Refuge. This is wildlife preservation and ethical tourism coming together fantastically.
If you are looking for a fantastic, educational and rewarding day out, including close ethical encounters with elephants? Then we genuinely recommend a visit to WFFT’s Wildlife Rescue Centre and Elephant Refuge. This is also a great day out if you have visitors!
If transport is an issue, for an additional fee, the center also offers pick-up and drop off from Hua Hin or Cha-Am. Bookings for the Day Tours are essential though so do plan ahead. All details here.
If you would prefer to see elephants in the wild then we recommend a day trip to Kui Buri National Park just an hour or so south of Hua Hin. Read about it here!
This day trip to WFFT’s Wildlife Rescue Centre and Elephant Refuge was indeed was a great day amongst the elephants – free from ethical concern!