Meaningful Ways to See Elephants

If you are traveling to Asia, you are probably very excited at the prospect of seeing, even riding elephants. But do you know that around 75% of the world’s captive elephants have been illegally captured, with over 3,000 used for entertainment in Asia alone?

PETA, whose driving force is that animals are not ours to use for entertainment  is highlighting that elephants used for rides are often forcibly separated from their mothers as babies. They are then immobilised with tightly bound ropes, and gouged with bullhooks or nail-studded sticks during “training.”

Please do not accept elephant rides!

Many tour companies are pledging not to promote cruel elephant rides, and if you see someone offering an elephant ride, I urge you NOT TO ACCEPT.

There are some other ways in which you can still enjoy seeing elephants sustainably by visiting small sanctuaries and spotting them in the wild.

Crossing the river at Periyar National Park

Periyar National Park, South India

Periyar National Park in Kerala is one of the most well-preserved natural habitats I have visited. Here you can see the Indian Elephant, a subspecies of the native Asian elephant, in the wild. Take a walking safari at sunrise or sunset and you will most likely spot the elephants hanging out near the river.

The Elephant Transit Home and Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to a population of up to 4,000 endangered Sri Lankan elephants. While many travelers opt to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, there are some concerns about the treatment of the elephants and ethos of the orphanage.

This is a rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured elephants, with a strict no-contact policy. Visitors here can observe the elephants in a natural atmosphere and see how they interact with one another during feeding time

Pranburi, Thailand

There’s chance to get off the beaten track in Thailand and discover the Wildlife Friends Foundation – an organization rescuing and rehabilitating sick or injured elephants.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Elephant Nature Park is located in Northern Thailand outside of Chiang Mai. This park is dedicated to caring for elephants who have endured mistreatment in camps and circuses with more than 35 elephants currently cared for.

Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka

Visits to the Minneryiya or Kaudulla National Park gives travelers the opportunity to climb the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, before taking an elephant safari. A jeep Safari in Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park with Rickshaw Travel comes as part of the Elephant‘s in Buddha’s Garden trip.

Adopt an elephant at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage

Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage, Kenya

Watch baby elephants rescued from all over Kenya at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage as they are fed every morning from 10-11am. There is no physical contact with the elephants though they may come close to you on their own during playtime.

For a $50 annual donation, you can even also foster a baby elephant and receive newsletters with rescue stories.

World Elephant Day

The annual World Elephant Day (12 August) is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants, as many fight to change this fate.

There are two species of elephants: African comprised of two different species (forest and savannah), with less than 400,000 remaining worldwide, and Asian, with less than 40,000 remaining worldwide.

While they are similar in physiology, they are too biologically different to interbreed. Recent scientific findings suggest that the forest-dwelling African elephant is a genetically distinct species, making it a third elephant species. (Courtesy Rickshaw Travel in Travel Alliance Bulletin)

A Woman Who is Changing the Way We Travel

I first met Kelly Campbell at the 2011 Travel & Adventure Show in Atlanta where I was speaker. She & her sister, Anne, had a booth for The Village Cooperative selling fair trade jewelry & handicrafts. They also founded a travel company, The Village Experience, that organizes socially responsible tours all over the world. We became friends instantly sharing a mutual passion for travel and giving back.

Over the years, we have partnered on a Go Eat Give trip to Kenya, Destination Kenya in Atlanta, & more. I recently spent a few days at her home in Lamu, Kenya, where I got a deeper glimpse of her lifestyle. Here is an interview with this woman changing the world, one village at a time.

Hanging out by the pool at The Majlis Resort

What was your inspiration for founding The Village Experience? 

It is my opinion that Americans need to get out into the world more and experience the richness, diversity, and beauty of cultures outside of their own. This leads to better understanding, breaking down of barriers, tolerance to different religions, and so much more. Nothing brings me greater joy than watching my passengers experience something out of their comfort zone and thrive in the magic of it. I have many return passengers that have come to find travel as addicting and educational as I have.
What are 3 projects around the world you are most passionate about?

Safari Doctors – Lamu, Kenya. This organization operates medical clinics in twelve remote villages throughout the island archipelago that have little to no access to healthcare. I’ve been on many of the medical sails myself and have seen firsthand the obstacles these communities face on a daily basis just to care for their families. I knew the first time I sailed with Safari Doctors and met CNN Hero and founder, Umra Omar and her team, that we would be partnering on many projects together. Fast forward 3 years, and The Village Experience has helped to fund monthly medical sails and provide essential equipment such as satellite phones, vaccine refrigerators, solar panels, privacy tents, and medical examination cots. We’ve even built the first playground on Pate Island for the kids being served by the medical clinics.

Women’s Interlink Foundation – Kolkata, India. This organization works to root out human-trafficking, prostitution, and abuses against women by working on prevention, rescue, rehabilitation, and repatriation back into the community. They run several rescue centers for vulnerable girls, red light district after school programs for children of working mothers, street children drop-in centers in the slums, vocational skills training programs, and a rural community based tourism program. I love their holistic approach to tackling injustices against women, and I’m constantly inspired by the hard work and dedication of Aloka Mitra and her entire team of strong women. The Village Experience has provided Women’s Interlink Foundation with dormitories and new playgrounds for the rescue centers, sewing machines for their tailoring program, administrative support for the entire street kids program, funding for their artisan development program, and we even built the entire Tribal Village Home Stay for their community based tourism program in Shantiniketan.

Vamos Adelante – Esquintla, Guatemala. This organization works in 24 rural villages along the slopes of Volcano Fuego. Most of the communities survive on seasonal work from the coffee plantations and sugar cane fields, and utilize the children in their families to help bring in extra income. Vamos Adelante works to educate the families on the importance of school, hygiene, nutrition, and healthcare. They provide medical clinics, distribute food to the elderly and malnourished, provide access to eco-stoves and clean water filters, build and improve schools, and work to empower the women in the villages. After traveling three hours up the side of the volcano, through multiple rivers and winding streets, the people I encountered captured my heart. There was no going back! The Village Experience has assisted Vamos Adelante in building new classrooms, renovated current schools, built a recreational center, started a women’s tailoring program, installed concrete floors/tin roofs/rain catchment systems for families in the program, and even provided a brand new cement mixer for the construction teams.

View from Kelly’s home in Lamu

You are on the road how many days a year? How do you balance personal and professional life? 

Most years, I am on the road approximately 270 out of 365 days of the year…either leading socially responsible tourism trips, scouting new destinations, fundraising, or working alongside our NGO partners. We are getting busier and busier, so it is getting harder to carve out personal time. What I find works best is to arrive to my work destinations early to rest and prepare for the passengers. Then, if time permits, I like to stay 3-5 days longer on my own to explore the destination at my own pace – sit at coffee shops and people watch, book hotels with beautiful views, scour the markets for artisan treasures, and try all the popular restaurants. I also made a commitment to myself to visit several new places each year to ensure I am continuing to see the world and growing in my knowledge. This year I will experience Greece for my 40th birthday – just my family and friends with me in private villas sitting back and watching the sun set over beautiful Santorini.

Now that I am an Aunt to twin 11 month old nephews, going back to the States or meeting them out in the world is becoming a huge priority. We already have a family reunion planned for January 2019 in Lamu, Kemya so that the family can have a true, relaxing vacation and the boys can begin their journey as world travelers.

What do you do for fun? 

The number one thing I do for fun is pack up my cooler with chilled white wine, fresh pasta salad, locally made bread, and imported chocolate and go sailing with my friends on Hippo Dhow or The Gypsy Catamaran. There is something so relaxing and therapeutic about being on the water, especially the Indian Ocean. We sail through the channels, anchor the boat on Manda Beach or one of the local sand bars, and then swim, walk the beach, and enjoy our cooler!
I also LOVE exploring markets around the world. The energy I feel the moment I step into a souk or mercado in a city like Marrakech, Antigua, Udaipur, Bali, or Cairo is such a high for me. I could meander through the alleyways for days on end, haggling for handmade items and sipping local coffee.
As a woman, what is your biggest challenge in your line of work? 
Being young women working in travel, fair trade, and philanthropy in the developing world means that my sister and myself often have to prove ourselves over and over again to people that are older than us and organizations they are more established than ours. They have no idea how far our reach is or how passionate we are about our work. The Village Experience is a woman owned organization with the ability to give a voice to women all over the world. That can be an intimidating idea for many men we encounter. Even so, we continue to focus on our mission of promoting socially responsible tourism through The Village Experience, providing a market for fair trade items through our Sora Nomad brand, and raising money to empower villages around the world through our partner NGO, The Village Cooperative.
Ream more about Kelly & Anne Campbell on their website

Get Lucky! Have the Most Amazing Safari Experience

Are you addicted to those National Geographic documentaries on Wild Africa where they show lions hunting down a buffalo or thousands of wildebeests migrating across the Serengeti? I have probably exhausted the entire selection on big cats and wildlife shows found on Netflix. So, when I planned my trip to Masai Mara in Kenya with The Village Experience, I was very excited to get up close to the animals, this time in reality.

What I didn’t know was that I would be so, so close! And there would be animals everywhere! We (meaning my guide and I) really didn’t have to drive around looking for them. From the moment we were driving on the highway close to Lake Naivasha, I saw zebras running around. Over the next 24 hours, I saw 70 lions, 3 cheetahs, 1 leopard, and thousands of giraffes, zebras, elephants, wildebeests, impalas, gazelles, hippos, and buffalos!

Some people may think that this is an everyday sighting at a game drive in Kenya. But in fact, I was truly lucky. A few of my friends have been on safaris 4, 10, even dozens of times, and seen only a fraction of what I saw! Some of it may just be luck, choice of season, or my wonderful presence, but there are things you can do in advance to have an amazing African safari experience.

Stay close to the reserve

There are all kinds of tented camp accommodations around the animal reserves, some offer more luxury than others. My lodging at Sekenani Camp were comfortable and luxurious. I had hardwood floors, a deck overlooking a creek and a en suite bath tub with hot shower. I could hear hyenas, lions and birds from my bed all through the night! Don’t worry, there is always a security guard who accompanies you from your tent to the restaurant and around the property so you never walk alone at night.

Sekanani Camp was a 20 minutes drive from the Masai Mara park’s entrance. Being so close to wilderness meant, we really didn’t have to go very far to spot the animals. Zebras and giraffes were roaming right outside our camp.

Hire an experienced guide

I cannot emphasize enough how much a good driver and guide can make or break your safari experience. My guide, Danson Kahuria, was born and brought up near Masai Mara so he was quite familiar with the territory. He had also gone to college to learn about birds and animals, and conducts workshops of other guides.

Danson had a keen sense for knowing where the animals would be and how they typically behave. He could predict when a lion cub was about to yawn, which direction a leopard would walk towards, and which animal a cheetah was about to hunt down. As a result, I got to saw the big cats in action – eating, sleeping, mating, hunting – all in just a few hours!

A good guide will also maneuver the car (following park guidelines) in such a way that you can get the best photo opportunities! Since Danson knew which was the animals were going to turn, we were always ahead of their game.

Have some patience

If you have limited days, (I only had one) it is best to leave early morning for a game drive and plan to stay till sunset. Animals behave differently at different times of the day, so you want to be able to see their moods. My advise is to wear comfortable clothing, carry sunscreen, bug spray, a light jacket and lots of snacks and water for the day. I have heard stories of people going in a group and one of them was hungry so they left the park after a couple of hours. Remember you have to pay hefty entrance fees ($80-200/ person) so make the most out of it! Also, pack lots of extra batteries and memory cards. I took 500 photos and videos in less then a day!

Depending on your vehicle, you may have open roof or sides, to allow good viewing. But it also means more sun, heat and bugs, so be prepared.

Sunsets in the mara are spectacular. Don’t miss it.

Respect the animals

Remember, you are in the habitat of wild animals. Take every precaution to respect that by not getting out of your vehicle, feeding them or attracting their attention. Some people get excited and want to get closer, but park rangers are always secretly watching and will fine you if you get off the marked trails. Also, please do not litter the park.

An African safari is a bucket list for most people. If you get a chance to be one of the lucky ones to see wild animals in their natural habitat, do it right the first time!