ECC elephant welfare policy

Our Policy at ECC is based on best practices and rely heavily on the  “Five Animal Freedoms” (Source: OIE International)

1. Freedom from malnutrition

  • by providing ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour

2. Freedom from thermal and physical discomfort

  • by providing an appropriate environment including shelter, shade, access to bathing facilities and social interaction with other elephants

3. Freedom from injury or disease

by providing :

  • Experienced mahouts or keepers who can handle the elephants without causing injury.
  • Preventative health care
  • Access to veterinary care

4. Freedom from fear and stress

  • by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering:
  • Limited use of bull hook (ankus), and efforts made to phase out its use for positive reinforcement training techniques.
  • Minimize public contact
  • Elephants free to move at will, escape and find refuge
  • Maintain elephants in social groups when at rest
  • Elephants should not be tethered except for welfare reasons

5. Freedom to express normal patterns of behavior 

  • By providing sufficient space and areas where elephants are able and encouraged to dig, bathe, dive, forage, dust bathe etc and company of other elephants ideally in a social structure of mixed sex and age

How is ECC different from other Elephant camps?

At the Elephant Conservation Center, rather than taking elephants from their natural home into urban tourist areas, we take YOU to THEM, in their undisturbed natural environment;

Elephants at the Center are here to rest, either waiting to give birth or recovering from an exhausting life in logging or mass tourism industries. Do NOT expect to see package tours riding our elephants all day long! The money you pay not only sustains the center and its residents, it is also supporting natality through our baby bonus and breeding programmes, thus working towards elephant conservation across Laos

Our elephants inhabit 106ha of protected forest providing sufficient quantity and variety of natural fodder and our elephant hospital & nursery are staffed by our professional health care team, comprising of our vet, biologist and mahouts.

Our facilities are ecologically friendly utilising solar power and water from the lake, which we filter. We produce elephant dung paper and our promotional materials are produced using recycled paper and soy inks. To reduce the use of new building materials, our infrastructure uses old traditional Lao houses relocated to the Center.

Overall the Center is a place of learning and observation.

Responsible Asian elephant tourism?

We define ‘responsible Asian elephant tourism’ as an activity through which tourists can observe or interact with Asian elephants in a safe environment, and which promotes elephant physical and cognitive health, as well as social and reproductive opportunities.

We believe in this kind of approach because in Asia, the alternatives are normally either:

  • A return to the wild, to face a very real and (in some parts of Asia) inevitable risk of being poached for ivory, ‘medicinal’ preparations, skin or meat, or a struggle for survival in a habitat increasingly encroached on by humans.
  • Physical toil for elephants and individuals engaged in the (often illegal) logging industry, where:
    • the treatment of elephants is closed to public scrutiny
    • reproductive opportunities are usually limited
    • overwork, mistreatment, and (sometimes) resultant death occurs

Responsible Asian elephant tourism is rarely ideal. The ideal is that Asian elephants return to and live in the wild. The reality however, is that this would possibly result in species extinction across many parts of developing Asia. ECC hopes there will be a point in time when captive elephants can be returned to the wild and live free from fear of harm or death brought on by mankind.  Our endorsement of responsible elephant tourism is therefore a practical compromise solution, and one which we hope to be able to lift in the future – when it becomes safe for elephants to return to their natural environments.

Where do elephants at ECC come from?

Elephants at ECC are typically rescued from the logging industry, or are brought into our sanctuary by owners who are unable to support or care for their animal, or simply want to breed their elephant.

Why do our elephants have chains?

Chains: This is a very common question amongst visitors. We would all love to see our elephants roam free in protected and safe forests. However, we cannot afford to purchase a National Park with professional rangers yet… The ECC is set in a secondary forest bordering a lake. It is also bordering villagers’ fields, and the town of Sayaboury is not too distant. Our elephants are kept chained with a 30m long chain at night to let them feed at will and to prevent:

  • Them escaping our land and wandering in to farmers’ fields where they could be wounded by owners and where they could destroy crops and goods;
  • Them being stolen;
  • Them being killed for their ivory and/or body parts;
  • Them wounding visitors at the center or other elephants.

While most elephants at the ECC are of the more ‘docile’ female gender (males are significantly more aggressive), all elephants have the potential to cause sudden and serious damage to people and property. At night, when chaining is used, it allows for roaming and feeding in their natural habitat. Their mahouts always make sure that there is plenty of food for them in the area where they are chained that night. For the rest of the day, elephants at ECC are not chained.

What is our riding policy?

We are not a riding camp. There are many ways to spend time with elephants: staying at the observation tower to contemplate them as they socialize in the afternoons; during their bath, when you pick up the elephants in the morning at their resting place and take them back in the evening; you can observe babies at the nursery … Actually you can choose to spend as much time as you want observing them, you are where they live! And our guides and mahouts will never turn you down.

Can I come to the center as a volunteer?

The core volunteer program is generally 7 days/6 night’s duration with the opportunity to extend your stay. You will start by following our 3 days ‘Exploration’ programme. Then you will be asked to assist us in the Center’s development by participating in projects on site that are happing at the time. By experiencing this package, you will help the Elephant Conservation Center to develop. Our programme is all-inclusive and participants are accompanied or guided by our team members.

You will feel like part of the Elephant Conservation Center team and get to know our staff better.
Your activities may include things like:

  • Maintenance work (painting, construction, cleaning, gardening)
  • Elephant dung paper making
  • Development of the socialization area (cleaning, cut grasses around the electric fence, protect the trees etc)
  • Photography and artwork
  • Observing and recording of elephant behaviour
  • Enrichment 

Find our complete volunteer programme here

Is there any special requirement to participate?

A normal physical condition is required. We welcome guests from all ages and activities can fit everybody. If you know you have a certain allergy or medical condition we should know of, please bring your medication and inform us in advance.

Could the activity time schedule vary from time to time?

Yes, elephants have their routine: every night they have to stay in a different location in order to have access to enough natural fodder to eat. In the morning, the walking time to reach the elephants in the forest can then vary from 30 min to 1 hour so this may shift the schedule of our program. Please consider our schedule as being flexible. All activities presented on our website will occur, but times may vary.

What should I bring for the stay?

Hat, swimwear, light walking shoes, sandals, waterproof shoes (from June to October), trekking trousers and shorts. Head torch and batteries, sunglasses, sunscreen, mosquito repellent (long-sleeved shirt is also recommended for avoiding bites and stings), water bottle, your first aid kit and your camera!

Environmentally friendly products for shower and clean towels are provided by the Center.

What is the accommodation like?

The Center is more akin to an eco-resort. Our environment is precious and our philosophy is to be low impact. We are set up in a remote location, thus our service has its restrictions. You will get an exceptional view of the lake from your private veranda, friendly staff and natural outdoor conditions.

Currently we have 11 bungalows with 6 twin beds and 5 double beds. For families, we have one bungalow with a thin bamboo wall separating the two rooms, and we try and accommodate families here if possible. Bathrooms and toilets are outside of the bungalows and on a shared basis. We do have several locations, as well as toilets outside the dining room, so facilities are convenient and suitably available when needed.

We also have a traditional Lao rosewood stilt house dormitory with independent rooms (each one containing between 4 and 8 bunk beds) and shared washing facilities. This dormitory is for volunteers.

We have a staff bungalow amongst the guest bungalows, so there are English-speaking staff on call 24 hours should they be needed.

Everyone eats together in the dining room, this has a great atmosphere, and you can purchase drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, as well as snacks and it is also one of the places you can relax between activities.

What kind of food can I expect?

We offer only set menus as food is purchased in town every morning for a given day. Food is local and tasty and cooked on site with fresh ingredients from either our vegetable gardens or the market. For vegetarians and vegans, or anyone with food restrictions, we can adapt meals on request. However, Sayaboury is quite a traditional rural town and ingredients for vegetarians and vegans are quite limited, so you may wish to bring some breakfast spreads (if you don´t enjoy eggs or jam baguettes for breakfast) or extra snacks. During your booking process, please inform us about your requirements.

Is tap water drinkable at ECC?

No, tap water comes from the lake and is filtered for us in showers, dish washing and gardening. Drinking water is provided on site free of charge.

Where do you get your electricity from?

The Center is powered with solar energy. On a typical day, electricity in main communal facilities is available until 9 pm. The candles will take over for night chat time! On some occasions, we may resort to using our electric generator for a limited amount of time. You will be able to charge your electronic devices during the day. Ask our Hospitality manager for charging times while on site.

Will I get connection to the outside world?

We do not offer wifi connection on site. However, for emergencies, you can request our hospitality staff to help you get online or use a telephone line.

Is there a special price for kids?

Yes

  • 1 – 4 years old: free of charge with no supplement for single rooms, sharing the room with parents,
  • 5 – 10 years old: 50% discount with no supplement for single rooms, sharing the room with parents,
  • Over 10 years: full charge

How may I pay?

After making your reservation at the ECC, we would have to receive a deposit of 50% of the total price. There are several ways to settle the deposit. The first option would be by credit card. You would have to send us your card number and expiry date. Once you see that the amount has been debited, you would have to send us a notification. The second option would be an international transfer using the details below. Please note that the transaction costs for transfers can be very high. Afterward you would need to send us a transcript, we will then notify you of the amount we have received.

Name:               BANQUE POUR LE COMMERCE EXTERIEUR LAO PUBLIC
SWIFT Code:     COEBLALA
Account No:      121110100359357001
Name:               LAO ELEPHANT SANCTUARY CO
Details:             RUE PANGKHAM, BAN HAISOK, VIENTIANE, TEL: 55521447

Funds in USD

The remaining sum can be settled in our visitors office in Luang Prabang or in the center in Sayaboury.

We accept the following currencies on site: Lao Kip, Dollars, Euros and Baht.

Should I book in advance?

The earlier you book, the better your chance of securing your visit, especially during the high season (ranging from November until March) when we can get fully booked two weeks in advance.

How do I get to the Elephant Conservation Center?

It is easy to get to the the Elephant Conservation Center.

  • From Luang Prabang

Our minivan departs daily at 8am, from outside the Luang Prabang post office, main street. When you book your stay with us, the van driver will be expecting you at the pick up point (post office) and will take you directly to the ECC wharf in Sayboury where our boat takes you to the Center. This transfer takes approximately 2.5 hours and is included in your accommodation package, and returns around 2pm of the day of your departure, arriving at Luang Prabang by 4.30pm.

  • From Vientiane

The fastest and most comfortable way is to fly to Luang Prabang (check www.laoairlines.com, or www.laoskyway.com, or a travel agent) and take our minivan from there (see details above).

If you are traveling overland these are your options:

The private company called Sakura runs an air con minibus service from Vientiane (Sikhai minibus station opposite to the Sikhai market on Suphannuvong street, past the Wattay airport in the direction of RD13 North). The minibus usually leaves in the morning with departures from 9 to 11 am. It takes approximately 6 to 7 hours to get to Sayaboury. We can pick you up from the bus station or a guest house in Sayaboury.

If you need to come by your own means drive north along the Mekong river (turn left past Wattay airport in Ban Sikhay) to the crossroads just before Sanakham. There, turn right to Paklay. Board the ferry boat to Paklay. Getting to Paklay takes approximately 3 to 4 hours depending on road conditions. Once in Paklay, continue north to Sayaboury (another 2 hours drive).

Another option is to drive north to VangVieng (2.5 hours) and then onto Kasi. In Kasi, turn left across the mountains to Muang Nan. In Muang Nan, turn left to Sayaboury. The whole journey, excluding stops, lasts about 5-6 hours.

  • From Sayaboury

Our minivan can pick you up from your guesthouse in Sayaboury, on it’s way from Luang Prabang. You need to be ready by 10am.  And if you are booking buses out of Sayaboury to your next destination, the van can get you to Sayaboury bus station in time for departures after 3pm.

Is there a good guesthouse to stay at in Sayaboury?

There are plenty of acceptable guesthouses with prices ranging from 100 000 Kip (Bounvong, Santhipath, Mekky….) to 300 000 kip per night (Saianan Hotel…)

What are your guides’ qualifications?

Our guides have been trained in national and cultural history in Laos. They have a good command of the English language and care a lot about the elephants and their guests. They are friendly and always at your service. However, they are not elephant experts per se. For in-depth information about pachyderms, our vet and biologist will be there to answer your questions.

What are the working conditions of your staff?

Our staff have proper working contracts, a work insurance at AGL-ALLIANZ, regular holidays, 3 meals a day and free accommodation. Staff get a mix of monthly salary, efficiency bonus and annual bonus. Their revenue is higher than average Lao or even Thai rural incomes. Tips are always welcome.