2013 - ALL ELEPHANT DUNKING/RIDING HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED INDEFINITELY. When reading other reviews, make sure to check the dates of their VISIT and not the date the review was written.
If your heart is set on having one-on-one interactions with the animals, you will probably be disappointed. We understood going in that there would be minimal animal interaction. We were fine with this (as it is a rescue facility) but thought this was going to be like the ones in Thailand where the elephants roam around and people can sit on platforms and watch the ones that want to hang out – it is not. The visitor area is more like a nicely landscaped elephant exhibit at a zoo. They brought us some “elephant food” (plant stalks, fruit, etc.) and we were able to hold the food out and the elephants would grab it with their trunks over the fence. That was neat, but of course, there was “that guy” who kept throwing food at the elephants and there wasn't any staff around to tell him to stop harassing the animals.
We were there on a Saturday afternoon and got to watch the larger elephants go into the river and splash around with their mahouts. No visitors were in the water and a low-medium sized crowd watched the activities. Maybe if we arrived earlier in the day (or on a different day) people could have "bathed" with the smaller ones. Though it seems like having a huge crowd (yelling and jumping all over it) could be particularly stressful to the elephant so I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have done that even if it had been available. If that is interesting to you, I would call the office and ask if the “bathing” is still offered.
I am torn on this activity. On the one hand there are rescued animals that have obviously had a hard life, but then the animals have chains around their ankles and the mahouts have bull hooks (we didn’t see them in use). After they say that “this isn’t a circus” the animals do a “demonstration” where they drag chains, lay down, pick up something off the ground and bow. I am by no means an animal behaviorist, but while the animals were waiting their turn some of them were rocking back and forth which made me think that they were stressed out. Not sure if this is because of the treatment at the sanctuary or the life it led before it arrived at the center. I didn't watch the video so they might have addressed these issues.
If you only have a few days in KL you might want to reconsider visiting as it does take up a good bit of the day. But if you really like elephants and realize that this is more of an “elephant exhibit” instead of “elephant interaction” then it could be a good excuse for 3 hours of down time (1.5 hours each way) and a way to see the Malaysian countryside. It does seem like the animals are getting treated better here than they were getting treated in their previous life. One can hope that the entrance fees are spent on elephant well-being/ fund future rescues and that this isn’t a different form of animal exploitation/elaborate ploy for donations.
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