Walking with elephants

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InsideAsia customers at Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp last year
InsideAsia customers at Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp last year

Reaching heights of up to four metres (13 feet) and weighing up to 7,000 kilograms (15,400 lb), elephants are the earth’s largest surviving land animals, and they have been through a lot over the years at the hands of loggers, ivory traders, poachers, armies, circuses, zoos and – yes – tourists.

Meeting these magnificent animals can be the highlight of any holiday, but niggling doubts as to whether elephant camps, conservations centres and zoos are truly ethical or animal-friendly all too often dampens the sense of wonder most visitors feel when they meet and interact with elephants.

InsideAsia's Charlotte meeting one of Green Hill Valley's seven retired elephants
InsideAsia’s Charlotte meeting one of Green Hill Valley’s seven retired elephants

Elephants continue to be exploited for use in the logging industry, killed by poachers to fuel the illegal ivory trade, and confined in unfit conditions for the entertainment of tourists – but thankfully there are also organisations that exist to look after vulnerable elephants and give them a better life. These places can only survive through the support of tourism.

Green Hill Valley is one such camp, located in the stunning surroundings of Kalaw in central Burma. A family-run operation, this camp adopts ex-working elephants who have been “retired” by the government and gives them a peaceful sanctuary in which to live out their senior years.

Visitors to the camp are invited to meet the elephants and participate in their daily upkeep, including feeding, washing, and administering medical care to ailing elephants under the guidance of the resident vet. Taking your lead from the camp’s mahouts (elephant caretakers), you will also have the chance to learn how to ride them in the traditional fashion – bareback.

Besides providing a refuge for elderly elephants, Green Hill Valley is also a social and environmental operation – working to protect the stunning natural surroundings of the Shan Hills and providing sustainable employment opportunities for local people.

Aw, shucks
Aw, shucks
The beautiful surroundings of the Shan Hills
The beautiful surroundings of the Shan Hills

Depending on your fitness and inclination, there are a variety of guided nature trails available to camp visitors – ranging from overnight treks to short walks in the forest. This is a fantastic way to learn about Burma’s beautiful nature, as well as the culture and customs of the ethnic minority tribes who live in the hills. Finally, every visitor to Green Hill Valley is invited to plant a tree – leaving a positive mark on the environment.

Camps such as Green Hill Valley can only survive and provide care for rescued elephants thanks to the support of tourists, so we strongly encourage anybody heading to central Burma to consider a visit. Our Burmese Family Adventure itinerary includes a stop at the elephant camp, but we can include this as an experience on any Self-Guided holiday. Don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out more!

InsideAsia's Jim washing elephants in September last year
InsideAsia’s Jim washing elephants in September last year

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