Several years ago when I wanted to take the girls on the slightly more ecologically educational holiday we ended upgoing to Borneo and seeing the orangutans and probiscus monkeys, which was great…but at the time another option was considered when deciding where to go…that other options was to go to Thailand and stay at an Elephant Sanctuary…I opted for the monkeys as I thought it was the safer option considering the age and size of the girls…I didn’t want to risk them being hurt….
Now however, they are bigger and when looking for something to do on our day in KL I found out there was an Elephant Sanctuary nearby at Lancang in the State of Penang… I could not resist…
We booked a private tour with Simba Transport, so that we could have a personal guide and travel in a car rather than on a bus. The visit to the Elephant Sanctuary was the afternoon section of the day, so when we arrived it was quite hot and humid, but the thought of being able to go for a swim kept us going.
On our arrival we were ushered into a theatre room to watch a documentary which shows the work being done to relocate elephants from the forests that are being destroyed by urban sprawl to areas of forest that have been allocated as nature reserves. I have seen similar documentaries before and they are always a little bit disturbing and it is sad to see and hear what the animals go through…I can see the need to try and help them, however it is disappointing to know that the reason for the discomfort is due to humans.
The elephants in this sanctuary have all been brought here from the local forests after they were injured or abandoned. The facility is run by native Malay people and whilst it is free to visit, they do ask for donations to help with their running costs…the government provides the rest of the necessary funding for essentials.
One of the biggest costs involved is food…the elephants eat from 30kg for the babies to over 100kg for the adults, of food per day…they LOVE their fruit!!! Simba stopped in the way and purchased a few bags of bananas…so we were then able to go to the baby elephant enclosure and feed them. There were about 10 babies of varied ages and they were all hungry…reaching their little trunks out and taking a banana (or two or three) and swinging it up into their mouth…occassionally though, for some reason we could not work out, they would drop the banana on purpose…I am not sure if it smelled bad perhaps…but even if they accidentally dropped a ‘good’ banana and reached down to pick it up, if they sniffed one of the rejected bananas they would toss it aside again and pick up the good one…
Once the little ones were feed, we were given a performance by their much bigger cousins…showing us some behaviours such as balancing on two legs, laying down, pulling a chain and a showering us with their trunk…then the two littlest babies came out and took a bow… As the show was nearing the end, Simba came and took Dave for a behind the scenes experience…the opportunity to go into the babies enclosures and feed them their proper lunch…huge buckets of fruit, sugar cane, rockmelon and berries! And to top it off, he got tohave a snuggle between two of them!!
When I thought about riding on an elephant before arriving, my mind had pictured some form of seat or basket…but this is a sanctuary, not a theme park…so they do things a la natural…we would be riding the elephant bareback. Thankfully we didn’t have to climb up on them, there was a raised platform built to the height that allowed us to sit straight on…wrap my arms around the handlers waist and hold on. Now, the elephant strolled very steadily, but their sheer size means that with every step, their shoulder blades rise and fall and their body sways, so we needed to sway as well to counter our balance. Simba took some pictures of us on our turn around and knowing the handler got him to stop for a couple of posed shots. After our turn,we had the opportunity to meet each of the elephants up close and personal, give them a pat and have a photo taken!
Then, it was time for a swim….with the babies, in the river…. Simba had told us on the way that it is not always possible to do the swim, particularly if it has been raining a lot and the river is running too fast for the little ones to stand in…but we were in luck, it is the dry season so the river was quite low, about thigh depth for me and the current was gentle. All the guests who had a yellow sticker were allowed in the river, so we took off our shoes and walked in…the water was cold at first but we adjusted quickly and soon found it delightful. I had thought it would be dirty and muddy, but was pleasantly surprised that the water was quite clean (not clear though) and the bottom was gravelly, which initially I thought was good, but after a short while of standing waiting for the babies to arrive, the fact that I almost never wear bare feet was beginning to show as standing onthe gravel was quite painful, however that was soon forgotten when the babies arrived. We stood back to let them in and find their feet in the moving water…then it was time for them to have a bath, they splashed us and we splashed them and everyone got soaked…Court and Amanda were both able to have a turn sitting on the babies back in the water and get splashed with them which was very fun to watch…considering I was close enough to be able to aim my splashes!
After a shower and changing back into dry clothes it was time for lunch for the humans…we stopped at a cafe on the roadside just outside the sanctuary gates. A local village cafe, the menu is simple and very cheap…we had a snack on some Banaa crisps while we waited for our lunch tobe frshly cooked…Mee Goreng Ayam for RM 3.50 each, which basically equates to about $5 in total…noodles (mee) with fried chicken (ayam)….delicious, everyone enjoyed it and it certainly filled us up.
On the hour and a half drive back into KL we stopped for a look at some rubber trees and saw how they cut the tree to release the latex sap into a collection bucket and how the tree heals itself afterward. We also stopped at a roadside fruit stall for another ‘experience’…Durian fruit…I didn’t enjoy the taste or the smell of those, but the had some lovely Mangosteens there too, so I had a few of those instead.
As we came into KL the traffic was very heavy, but thankfully Simba knows the city very well and with a quick lane change we took an exit that lead us around them main routes and back to the road at the end of the Chinatown market area…the markets had started for the evening so the road was closed to vehicles now. We wandered through the market back to the hotel, dropped off our gear and then went back out to the market to do a bit of shopping!