Wingabaw Elephant Conservation Camp is located in Bago Region, which is about two to three hour drive from Yangon City. The traffic is mainly in Yangon, which sometimes take about two hours just to leave Yangon. Then, take Yangon-Mandalay Highway Express Road and when you get to 39 mile junction, leave the Express Road to PhaYarGyi. The camp is on the left side of the road just after 10 minute drive.
Nowadays, you can see many elephant camps appeared in Myanmar. Although it is said that the camps are for conservation, many camps still offer elephant rides and shows. You can see these activities at Wingabaw Elephant Camp. However, these camps also keep and raise the orphan elephants. And also they make sure their elephants get healthy diet and they give medical treatment to the elephants. Since the government has reduced logging, many elephants and their mahouts are out of work. To support these mahouts and to raise the fund for orphan elephants, the camps offer these activities. That’s my understanding. When I visited there in August 2017, I didn’t do the ride. I fed the elephants and joined the elephant bathing in the creek, which I enjoyed much. I think if we, tourists, advise the camps repeatedly not to include shows and rides, they would eventually get rid of those activities.
The entrance fees for foreigners is 20000 kyats/pax and same for riding. At the main gate, there is a board showing the timetable of elephants – 6:30am to 8:30am is the time for cleaning elephant house, 07:30 to 08:30 is bathing elephants, 8:30 to 9:30 is elephant shows, 9:30 to 11:00 is elephant rides (twenty minutes for each ride), 11:00 to 16:00 is elephant gazing in fields, 16:00 to 17:00 is bathing elephants again and then, dinner time for elephants.
There were total 15 elephants and 6 of them were adults. The rest were between one and half months old and sixteen years old. The orphan baby elephants were kept separately. There was a eight month old baby elephant and she was with her mother. They kept them separately. The guards said they tried to attach the orphan babies with the mother elephant but the mother elephant rejected. That eight month old baby tagged along with her mother for bathing in the creek. The other babies took bath in pools and people were not allowed to join them.
I left Yangon about 6:30am and arrived there around 8:30am. There were few others visitors. The elephants were already leaving to the field for shows. There were four elephants – three males and one female. The show just last about 30 minutes and then the elephants came to the watching shelter so that the visitors could take photos with them. After that, some elephants went into the forests with their mahouts for gazing and some were waiting for visitors for rides. I bought food (sugar canes, bananas and tamarind paste mixed with sugar) and fed the adult elephants. They said tamarind with sugar is the medicine for elephants and it is good for elephant digestive system. And I gave milk bottles to younger ones. Food for adult elephants was sold at 2000kyats/basket. You can donate as much as you want for milk bottles. Even if you don’t donate for milk bottle, you can still take part in feeding the babies.
I stayed there for about three hours in the morning and left to Bago, and came back again around 4pm to join the elephant bathing. There were more visitors in the evening. At bath time, all adult elephants came down to the creek and also the eight month old baby. They will stop on the way if you want to take photos with them. The mahouts washed them with soap in the creek. I joined their bathing and really enjoyed it. Those giants were very gentle. The baby elephant was playful and cute. She looked happy when I washed her and played with her. The mama elephant did not look worry that I played with her baby. Instead, she looked really cool. One mahout showed me the pierced wound of an elephant behind its ear. He said the elephant got injured as the other elephant pierced him with the tusk when they fought for a female. They said they were going to apply medicine after bath. After bath, I changed my clothes and I donated some more money and then, I left there around 5:30pm.
There is a wooden building with 5 rooms and separate bathrooms and toilets. The room were are rent for 20000kyats/night. They can be rent for day time. If the visitors want to stay there overnight, the meals can be arranged. But it needs to be booked at least one day ahead. There is also a food shop which sells Burmese style salads, fried eggs, rice, soft drinks, ready-made coffee and tea.
If you ask me whether you should go visit there, I would say ‘yes’ to help and support the mahouts and baby elephants. But just don’t take ride and advise the manager or whoever is running the camp not to include the shows and rides. If these camps are doing well, many more elephants which are still used for logging can be out of the logging and they will be in the camps which is much less work load or no work load at all for elephants. Again, that’s just my thinking.
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