Asian Elephant at an elephant sanctuary playing in the river

Learning Our Lesson At An Asian Elephant Sanctuary

Kuala Gandah Sanctuary is on a mission to save the Asian elephant. They’ve literally rescued more than 700 from certain death. The sanctuary is located about 90 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We visited on an easy day trip from KL. We had a blast meeting and learning about the Asian elephant.

Kuala Lumpur Asian Elephant Day Trip – Elephant Rides Are Bad?

Asian Elephant getting ready to eat.

The toughest lesson of the day was about elephant rides. These rides are common attractions all over Southeast Asia.

Kuala Gandah has NO tourist elephant rides and seeks to educate guests about the harm rides cause.

Harm? Yes, Asian elephants are big and strong, but their spines aren’t made for riding. In addition, they have to go through some brutal training to give rides. We didn’t know that. We’ve ridden an Asian elephant in the past. We were shocked and felt very guilty. We just didn’t know the damage we were doing. It was a tough pill to swallow, but it was a lesson we were glad to learn.

We’ll never do it again, and we don’t recommend riding elephants. We’re not elephant experts, and we hate moralizing. But if you’re planning on riding an elephant, you may want to research the actual impact on the elephants before you ride. We didn’t and we really regret it.

Kuala Gandah seeks to educate guests about the harm elephant rides cause.Click To Tweet

Elephant Feeding

Kuala Gandah Sanctuary offered other more sustainable elephant encounters that we really enjoyed. The first encounter was feeding an Asian elephant. Fruit for the feeding was included in the ticket price. For the health of the elephants, the sanctuary provided all the food and outside food was forbidden.

The Travel Ninjas enjoying feeding fresh fruit to the Asian Elephant.

There were 2 fences and 4 feet between the elephants and us, but they felt very close. 4 feet wasn’t that far considering how huge they were. Feeding the elephants was an odd mix of thrilling and intimate. These are massive and powerful animals, but they took food from our hands with delicate precision. It was a simple moment, but we loved it.

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Observing Elephant Playtime

Next we watched the elephants bathe in the river. We’ve always heard that is was bad to swim after a meal, but apparently that doesn’t apply to elephants. They were having a great time. We guess some of their enjoyment was merely practical cooling off, but other behavior seemed like pure play. Either way it was fun just to watch them.

Asian Elephant getting ready for his bathThey couldn’t wait to get in the river. They jogged over and quickly plopped into the water.

Asian Elephant playing in the river

Asian Elephant playing in the river

All the elephants did a lot of spraying, but this one was the most active. He kept dousing himself with water and spraying like crazy.

Asian Elephant getting his daily bath

Asian Elephant getting his daily rub down by the staff

The elephants also got a nice rub down and bath from the handlers.

Bathing an Elephant

Vanessa and Steve, The Travel Ninjas, bathing the Asian Elephant

Then it was our turn to play in the river. We got to bathe an Asian elephant! This was the absolute highlight of the visit.

Vanessa and Steve, The Travel Ninjas, bathing a baby Asian Elephant

Bathing a baby Asian Elephant was a highlight of our trip

Both of us were so caught up in this magic moment. We didn’t even notice how the handler was mouth feeding the elephant. It was quite clear that the handlers really cared for their elephants, but we didn’t realize how much until we saw these photos.

The Work of Kuala Gandah Sanctuary

Kuala Gandah Sanctuary has done some great work. They have rescued and relocated more than 700 Asian elephants. You don’t see the wild elephants at the sanctuary. These elephants are relocated to wild areas like Taman Negara. Taman Negara is a huge protected rainforest in Malaysia.

When Kuala Gandah says “rescue,” they mean it. Many of these elephants literally have guns to their heads. The Asian elephant has lost its home to the omnipresent palm oil plantations. With nowhere to go, the elephants often destroy large swaths of the plantations and people have been trampled. In retaliation, so many elephants have been shot and killed.

This loss of habitat is why the Asian elephant is an Endangered Species. Luckily, the Malaysian government founded Kuala Gandah Sanctuary, and hundreds of Asian elephants have been saved.

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The Asian elephants that we encountered were domesticated elephants rescued from harsh conditions. It’s a smaller part of the work, but the sanctuary rescues some domesticated elephants from abusive situations. Like most government projects, the sanctuary is underfunded. It helps raise money for the rescues and relocations with the Asian elephant attraction. The real job of these domesticated elephants is helping to relocate the wild elephants. We saw videos of them helping to soothe the wild elephants who were fighting the transition to safety at Taman Negara.

Are All Elephant Attractions Bad?

We don’t think all elephant attractions are bad, but it’s an important question that prospective visitors should take seriously. In the end, we think Kuala Gandah Sanctuary is a good place that does good work. We were happy to support this sanctuary with our visit. In addition to saving hundreds of endangered Asian elephants, they strive to educate visitors. Their message certainly changed our minds about elephant rides and palm oil.

From what we saw, the domesticated elephants were indeed “rescued” and now seemed to have a good life. Instead of trunk-breaking work, back-breaking rides, or circus shows, these elephants are hand-fed fresh fruit and get bathed in a river. The sanctuary boasted about having only one encounter experience per day. They said that frequent feeding and bathing are bad for the elephants. The elephants also have a huge natural habitat and plenty of other elephants to socialize with. We think these encounters are sustainable for the elephants and a great way to raise money for their (very expensive) care.

Of course, we could be wrong. We certainly don’t want to participate in any more harmful activities, so we have open minds on this thorny issue.

What do you think? Have you been to Kuala Gandah Sanctuary? Can some elephant attractions be ethical?

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60 Comments
  • Divya
    Posted at 06:54h, 15 December

    I had no idea about elephant rides. Eek – I feel a little guilty as well, as I’ve done that before. I didn’t realize it was going to negatively affect them. How does a “mouth feeding” work?!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 06:55h, 15 December

    Hi Divya. Yeah, we felt so bad when we found out. ? The staff provides you with fresh fruit and the elephants basically come and grab it out of your hand with their trunk. ?

  • Houx
    Posted at 09:35h, 15 December

    Oh wow I rode on an elephant when I was about 5 or 6. I had no clue the impact this would have on them. Elephants are amazing creatures. So excited for your experiences.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 09:39h, 15 December

    Hello Houx. Thanks. Elephants are amazing to us too.

  • Welsh Cakes and Wellies
    Posted at 11:05h, 15 December

    This is such a responsible way to visit Elephants – I love Elephants, it’s just so important we treat them (and all animals with respect). It looks like you had a fantastic time. I would love to go!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 11:11h, 15 December

    Hello Welsh cakes and Wellies. Thanks. We had a great time.

  • Dannii
    Posted at 11:37h, 15 December

    I have never ridden an elephant and I would never want to. It’s such a cruel thing.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 11:38h, 15 December

    Hello Dannii. Elephant rides definitely hurt the elephants.

  • Anne Thornley-Brown
    Posted at 11:39h, 15 December

    I have been to Malaysia 18 times but I have never been to the elephant sanctuary. I will keep this in mind for next time. It would be a great experience for corporate groups too.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 11:45h, 15 December

    Hello Anne. Yes, we think Kuala Gandah would be great for corporate group events. They have excellent facilities, like big clean modern showers and bathrooms too.

  • Amber Myers
    Posted at 14:54h, 15 December

    I didn’t realize about the elephant rides either.

    It would be fun to watch them at play. They are such amazing animals.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 14:55h, 15 December

    Hello Amber. We wish we knew beforehand too. Elephants are mesmerising to watch.

  • Tasheena @ SimplyTasheena.com
    Posted at 21:31h, 15 December

    I haven’t been to the Kuala Gandah Sanctuary. It looks like a wonderful adventure. Plus, the Asian elephant looked like he or she really enjoyed the bath.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 21:33h, 15 December

    Hello Tasheena. We enjoyed Kuala Gandah. Watching the asian elephant play in the river was definitely a highlight.

  • Shane
    Posted at 22:07h, 15 December

    I was so sad to learn how the elephants in many sanctuaries in Thailand were treated. It’s important to be educated!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 22:10h, 15 December

    Hello Shane. We agree. It’s sad when elephants are mistreated and we certainly don’t want to unknowingly participate. 15 2210

  • Briana Marie
    Posted at 06:17h, 16 December

    I learned a while ago that elephant rides were indeed bad. I was so devastated because we’ve had a lot of fun on elephant rides. But even just watching the elephants will keep us happy especially knowing that we aren’t harming them.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 06:22h, 16 December

    Hello Briana. Watching elephants was a great experience without harming them.

  • Annette Richmond
    Posted at 10:33h, 16 December

    Thanks for sharing this, it’s SO important that people know about the harm in elephant rides. I was recently in Thailand and wanted to visit a sanctuary but they are very difficult to get to ie in remote locations. I did however see a lot of options for elephant rides but did not partake. Although feeding and bathing elephants was one of my wants, I didn’t want to sacrifice my morals. Thanks for sharing this post, I can live through you!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 10:37h, 16 December

    Hello Annette. Thank you for your kind words. Good to hear that you avoided elephant rides and stuck to your convictions.

  • Courtney Jones
    Posted at 22:49h, 16 December

    I also rode an elephant years ago and now that I actually understand how bad that is, feel super guilty 🙁

    Great article!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 22:52h, 16 December

    Hello Courtney. Thanks. It was definiltey a mistake for us to ride too.

  • kathy (from walkaboutwanderer.com)
    Posted at 23:24h, 16 December

    I had heard about the cruel treatment of elephants following a visit to a sanctuary in South Africa. I love educational places like this. I will be sure to visit here when I get to that area of the world. Thanks for sharing. Your photos are amazing especially the one of the handler hand feeding the elephant. Thanks for sharing.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 23:25h, 16 December

    Hello Kathy. Thank you. We were sad to learn of all the bad things that happen to elephants too. We really appreciate all we learned about the asian elephant here.

  • Allison
    Posted at 23:26h, 16 December

    This is a great post to raise awareness. While I have done an elephant ride in the past (in Thailand) I never will again. The more awareness raised the more people can make informed decisions.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 23:28h, 16 December

    Hello Allison. Thank you. We never want to preach to others, but we wanted to share our mistakes so that others can make informed decisions.

  • Jen
    Posted at 00:44h, 17 December

    Oh no, I didn’t know that riding an elephant is bad for them. I assumed that because of their size, they can handle a human’s weight. I was interested before in doing this because they are just too cute! Phew! At least now I know. People should know more about this. Thank you for sharing!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 00:50h, 17 December

    Hello Jen. Thanks. We didn’t know either. It’s not exactly obvious, but we’ll never do it again.

  • neha
    Posted at 05:00h, 17 December

    Wow..I am so glad and happy this place actually educates people about the harms of elephant riding. This is one place I can have some lovely time with the animal without any guilt .. thanks for sharing

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 05:05h, 17 December

    Hello Neha. Thanks. We learned so much there and had a good time.

  • chris
    Posted at 07:13h, 17 December

    If nothing else, at least it was immediately an educational experience for you!

    At least it appears that their intentions here are all noble and well meant

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 07:20h, 17 December

    Hello Chris. Thanks. We think Kuala Gandah has noble intentions too.

  • Amrita
    Posted at 08:26h, 17 December

    Taking care of these majestic animals are important. In the ecosystem every living being needs a secure place.Good of you to support the initiative. Mouth feeding an elephant.!Thus I have never heard or seen

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 08:30h, 17 December

    Hello Amrita. Thank You. Hopefully even more can be done to protect the endangered asian elephant.

  • CourtneyLynne
    Posted at 14:26h, 17 December

    Ughhh now I feel all sorts of horrible! I have taken an elephant ride before but just assumed they were fine like riding a horse. Glad I now know

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 14:30h, 17 December

    Hello CourtneyLynne. We know just how you feel. Just have to do better in the future.

  • Rashmi and Chalukya
    Posted at 15:09h, 17 December

    The concept of Kuala Gandah Sanctuary sounds fascinating where we would get a chance to visit the animals from proximity but without causing them any harm. Watching those elephants bathe and play looks like a fun experience. We would definitely love to visit someday

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 15:11h, 17 December

    Hello Rashmi and Chalukya. We think kuala Gandah is a great place to visit asian elephants without doing harm. Hope you enjoy your visit, if you go.

  • TAYLOR FULLER
    Posted at 20:07h, 17 December

    i love learning about different animals. I especially love elephants and i lived in thailand so I had to learn a lot about these things toO!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 20:10h, 17 December

    Hello Taylor. We love learning about animals too and think this is a good place for it.

  • Anosa
    Posted at 00:20h, 18 December

    I have never ridden an elephant and always wanted to but now I will have to think twice. I will say I was a little taken back the guy mouth fed the elephant lol I thought he was having a smooch with it lol

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 00:30h, 18 December

    Hello Anosa. Yes. That photo cracked us up. It does look like a big smooch.

  • Sandy N Vyjay
    Posted at 06:10h, 18 December

    Elephants look so cute and innocent. . The staff there is doing a great work. Seems like you had great time at the sanctuary interacting with the elephants.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 06:15h, 18 December

    Hello Sandy N Vyjay. We did have great time and also think the staff there does good work.

  • Valerie
    Posted at 13:26h, 18 December

    We just love elephants. We have a beautiful zoo here and it’s so cool to see them. I would enjoy this adventure more though. So glad you all helped this baby. Have fun.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 13:30h, 18 December

    Hello Valerie. Thanks. We enjoyed our experience very much.

  • Sabrina
    Posted at 22:07h, 18 December

    This post couldn’t come at a better time! I’ve just landed in KL and I’m doing some research about what to do here in the next few days. I might well go to the sanctuary since you had such a positive experience! Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 22:11h, 18 December

    Hello Sabrina. That’s great to hear. We think its one of the best day trips from KL and recommend it.

  • Mar Pages
    Posted at 05:33h, 19 December

    This is really heart-warming. I’m so happy people are starting to travel responsibly. It’s so much better to bath the elephants than ride on them anyway!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 05:35h, 19 December

    Hello Mar. Thank you. We agree. Bathing was awesome and heart warming.

  • Diana - MVMT Blog
    Posted at 11:06h, 19 December

    I didn’t know there was an elephant sactuary near KL! I’m planning to go to the one near Chiang Mai in the spring and am so so excited! Elephants are my favorite animal, and I’m so happy to see that more and more people are spreading awareness about not harming elephants. Many people don’t think that humans sitting on an elephant’s back can hurt them, but elephants actually weren’t made to carry things on their backs, so the weight of a human can hurt them despite their large size! So glad you got a chance to visit there!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 11:11h, 19 December

    Hello Diana. Thank you. Enjoy you visit to Chiang Mai and the elephant sanctuary there. Can’t wait to hear about it.

  • Galia.Vu0107
    Posted at 22:12h, 19 December

    I’ve already gone to Malaysia, but never joined Elephant day trip before. It’s really excited with useful activities as bathing, feeding elephants. Super thanks!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 22:20h, 19 December

    Hello Galia. We think this asian elephant sanctuary is a great place to visit in Malaysia.

  • Sreeram Hariharan
    Posted at 14:22h, 23 December

    Wow! This post conveys such a wonderful message. Animals are to be loved and not hurt. I never knew about this park, I would surely visit this someday for all the good deeds they are doing. Its so nice of them to include the price for feeing these animals included in the tiScket.

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 14:23h, 23 December

    Hi Sreeram. Thank you for your kind words. We really enjoyed the asian elephant sanctuary.

  • Ami
    Posted at 21:36h, 23 December

    I am glad that you are sharing these facts about Elephants- a nice way to promote some responsible travel. Elephant bathing is so much fun. We have some in this side of the world and I absolutely enjoyed them. Thanks for this lovely post

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 22:00h, 23 December

    Hello Ami. Thank you. We are always trying to learn as we go. We really loved elephant bathing too.

  • wendy maes
    Posted at 04:12h, 21 February

    What a great alternative for elephant rides! My children would live this one!

  • The Travel Ninjas
    Posted at 04:22h, 21 February

    Hi Wendy. That’s exactly right. There are lots of kids there and they have a blast.