The Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary, or National Elephant Conservation Centre to give it its official title, is dedicated to the protection of wild elephants.
It does this by relocating wild elephants from areas where their natural habitat is under threat from human encroachment and releasing them in protected jungle reserves where they are able to roam more freely.
Subduing and transporting a 4 ton wild elephant is no easy matter and Kuala Gandah's rangers have to take care to prevent death or injury to themselves and the elephants. The Centre has been successful in relocating over 600 wild elephants since the relocation programme began in 1974.
Besides performing this vital role, the Centre is a permanent home to 20 or so orphaned or injured elephants who might struggle to survive in the wild. It is these gentle giants that you will see when you visit the centre.
I took my family there recently and we had an enjoyable day out.
Kuala Gandah is located within the protected Krau Wildlife Reserve and is a couple of hours drive from Kuala Lumpur.
Visitors are to arrive from 12:30pm onwards. On arrival you have to register at the Visitor Registration Office and sign a waiver of liability for any accidents. You are then given a donation form to complete. There is no entrance fee to the Centre but a (generous) donation is strongly encouraged. Although the Centre is funded by the Malaysian Government's Department of Wildlife and National Parks, donations are welcome to finance the upgrading of facilities. With around 20 elephants in residence, each eating 50-100 kilos of food per day you can imagine it costs a lot to keep the place going.
After watching a video presentation (screening at 12:50, 1:30 and 3:45pm daily) visitors assemble in an open area in front of an enclosure where you can feed peanuts to some cute baby elephants.
Next the elephants are paraded onto a kind of stage and introduced to the visitors. Some elephants demonstrate how they can carry things with their trunks and obey basic commands.
Next it is feeding time. The elephants line up and happily allow visitors to pop great chunks of papaya and cucumber into their mouths.
During weekends the Centre gets quite crowded with coach loads of students, foreign tour groups and locals who arrive in private transport.
The first 150 visitors are given yellow stickers which entitles them to a short bare-back elephant ride. Then the elephants proceed to the river and visitors with yellow stickers have the opportunity to assist with bathing the elephants. During my visit, the elephants certainly seemed to enjoy the bathing and did not appear to be stressed by the large numbers of visitors.
If you want to make sure of getting a yellow sticker you should make a reservation first to avoid disappointment (tel 09-2790391).
The centre closes at 5pm.
Some might feel that the experience at Kuala Gandah is rather too 'touristy' but it helps to bring in visitors and raise funds for the Centre's important relocation work.
- Sun block/hat.
- Insect repellant.
- Change of clothing if you intend to get into the river with the elephants. Bikinis and skimpy swimsuits are not allowed.
You could book a tour through a travel agency in Malaysia or negotiate a deal with a taxi driver to take you and bring you back. If driving yourself take the Kuala Lumpur - Kuantan expressway and exit at the Lanchang/Raub/Kuala Lipis turn-off. After exiting the Lanchang toll booth you will come to a T-junction. Turn right (Kuala Gandah is marked on a brown tourist information roadsign). From there it is basically straight all the way for 20 minutes and it is signposted.
After visiting Kuala Gandah you could take the opportunity to pop into Deerland, a mini-zoo that you will see signposted immediately before entering Kuala Gandah. For an entry fee of RM10 adult and RM5 child (RM5 and RM3 respectively for Malaysians) you get to feed and pet some amazingly tame deer. Among other things there is a large python that you can wrap around your neck if snakes are your cup of tea and you can get really close to a sun bear. The zoo keeper even offered to let my wife and I cuddle the sun bear if we wanted but not wishing to appear on the next episode of "When Animals Attack!" we politely declined.
It's the sort of zoo that would not get approval from health and safety/animal protection inspectors in the West but it certainly gives you the chance to get up close to some interesting animals.
You can find more photos of the elephants and Deerland on my blog.