It’s no secret that elephants have been a major tourist attraction in Africa and now the emerging elephant refuge industry taking tourism to the next level. But are we seeing the next big trend in tourism by visiting the natural habitat and getting up close and personal with “wild” elephants?
Rise in Elephant Sanctuaries
Over the last few years, more and more “sanctuaries” have been popping up all across Africa offering a “One of a Kind” experience with the local wildlife. In South Africa, the Elephant Sanctuary of South Africa has three different locations one can visit during their travels through the African countryside.
The Knysna Elephant Park was the first to take in and care for orphaned elephants, starting in 1994. Since then, they have expanded their business model to begin catering to tourists, offering daily elephant tours and even weddings with elephants. The park is open 365 days a year offering an on site restaurant, playground, souvenir shop and even photography services for your adventure.
Ethics in Elephant Sanctuaries
While most will agree that spending the day walking among these gentle giants would be an excellent item to check off their bucket, some are worried that the rise in tourism could pose a risk to the overall well being of these already troubled animals. Most sanctuaries are still trying to keep their initial goal in mind – preserve the integrity of the environment and natural habitat for the animal – and they have incorporated a highly ethical approach to ensure maximum interaction between visitor and elephant, making this a memorable and enriching African experience.
However, not all refuges are created equal, and if you are looking to spend the day with an elephant, then it is highly recommended that you investigate the sanctuary that you intend to visit. Finding the cheapest refuge may not be the best choice for the animals housed there and researching the organization that hosts the event is key to ensuring your once in a life time experience does not come at the cost of a suffering animal.
What to Expect at a Sanctuary
Now that you’ve done your research and are planning a visit to a proper sanctuary that has the highest regards for their guests and animals, what can you expect from a visit?
- Meet and Greet – of course visiting an elephant sanctuary wouldn’t be complete if you didn’t get the opportunity to meet and greet your host. Most sanctuaries offer up close and personal interactions with their elephants giving you the chance to pet, brush and walk with the elephants.
- Trunk In Hand Walks – taking a stroll down the African outback with elephant in hand may seem like a dream, but many refuges offer this very attraction on a daily basis.
- Brush Downs – if hygiene is your thing, then spend some quality time with an elephant as you brush him or her down giving a health and positive experience to both the animal and tourist.
- Sanctuary Tours – traveling the back country and observing these animals in their natural habitat is also a great way to experience the elephant sanctuary without imposing too much human interaction.
Elephant tourism is definitely on the rise, and as more sanctuaries look to supplement their costs through various means, we can only expect to see other supporters of this tourist attraction begin to take hold in the area. We can only hope that as “business” begins to boom the sanctuaries are keeping true to their initial purpose, to provide a safe haven and well being to all the elephants in need.