Pachyderm paradise at Kuala Gandah Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary

While Kuala Lumpur is full of delicious food, sprawling shopping centres and tourist attractions, an excursion from the traffic-congested roads and into the wilderness is always welcomed.

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A rest stop along the way

A friend came to visit from Sydney, so four of us decided to make a day trip out to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary in Kuala Gandah, Pahang.

The last time I visited Pahang, it was to Taman Negara (it means ‘national park’ in English) which was a great adventure and teeming with wildlife.

The tourism Malaysia website said it would take around 2 – 2.5 hours from K.L to the sanctuary – fortunately we left early (8.30am) and reached there at 10am. The Karak highway was fairly quiet – not many people up on a Sunday – which made for a nice drive.

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A lot of the drive looked like this

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After passing the toll it was an easy drive to the sanctuary, passing through an orang asli (the indigenous people of Malaysia) village in the jungle (there’s only one road there and back) which was beautiful in the morning light. Here goats, chickens and what looked like a turkey roamed free without a care in the world.

We saw a sign pointing to Deerland (take a right instead of going straight) but continued on.

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The carpark

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After registering at reception, we paid RM60 for a guide and to participate in activities as well as having a guide. Note: It was RM50 (AUD18) for our whole group plus an extra RM10 (AUD3.50) per adult. Children pay RM5. The main activity was bathing the elephants and the centre limits it to 100 people a day so the elephants don’t get stressed.
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As we arrived before feeding started at 10.30am, we wandered over to the enclosures and had a look at the elephants staying there. They ranged in ages but all were considered ‘young’ (I think the oldest was 7). One poor elephant was missing a foot and had developed a hunched back 😦
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They did not look unhappy though which is important (unlike the animals in Zoo Negara… Visited 4 years ago with a friend from the UK and have not been back since). A stall opened selling bananas (RM5) and packs of sugarcane (RM3) which you can feed the elephants with… I think I bought 3 packs since the elephants enjoyed the sugarcane so much that juice was dripping everywhere.

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Got lots of elephant drool all over my hands hahaha

The baby elephants were so loud! Everyone got a shock when they trumpeted… But you get used to it. When you don’t feed them fast enough they also trumpet… The older elephants were quieter.
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Where you buy the sugarcane and bananas

There was a small show of sorts after where they introduced a few elephants and explained how old they were and where they came from (all over Malaysia). From the official website:

The only one of its kind in Malaysia, the team is dedicated to locating, subduing and then translocate problem elephants from areas where their habitats are being encroached by development. These elephants are then relocated to safer habitats including Taman Negara National Park. Over the past 30 years, this team has helped to resolve human-elephants conflicts and minimised the economic losses caused by such conflicts by relocating more than 700 wild elephants.

The staff brought out more sugarcane for us to feed the elephants after that. Once the show was over we retreated into the shade and decided to visit Deerland since the next activity (a video about the conservation efforts) wasn’t til 1pm…
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Deerland was amazingly cheap – RM6 (AUD2) for what it actually covered. From the outside it looks unimpressive but it was actually quite clean inside (everyone agreed on this) and the park was well-maintained by local standards.

Oddly enough, it didn’t just contain deer but also rabbits, fluffy chickens (Silkies), pythons, groundhogs, lizards, pheasants, budgerigars, peacocks, hedgehogs, raccoon’s and ostriches among others.  And for some reason, Bengal cats. Bengal cats look wild but they’re domesticated house cats…. So it was a little puzzling to see them in a jungle enclosure.
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The park is random, let’s just put it that way.

Your entrance fee covers a small basket of potato pieces which you can feed the deer, who will try to jump the fence to get at them.
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You can also try touching the hedgehogs – the albino female was really shy so the staff only let us handle the brown male hedgehog.
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They also have 2 pythons that you can hold – one albino and one normal coloured Burmese python. Both were silky smooth and cool to the touch.

Went back to the elephant sanctuary for a quick lunch… That turned out to be not so quick. There’s only one cafe/shop/canteen there and it was packed with tourists. There are only 5 things on the menu, plus some ready made food and the workers seemed to be overwhelmed and ended up forgetting our order. So… We missed the conservation video 😦

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The cafe has limited space

There was a modern-looking souvenir shop on the way to the cafe from reception but it seems to be in-construction or abandoned. Instead, all the souvenirs are sold in the small shop next to the cafe (don’t expect air-con in either, it’s all natural here). Bought a small magnet for RM10. Would be great if the sanctuary got more support as it has the potential to be even better and garner more tourists and therefore, more funds for the elephants.

After lunch we went back to the elephant pens which were now swarming with tourists (a mixture of locals from other parts of Malaysia and lots of Europeans)… For once I am glad we woke up early since we could feed the elephants in peace. Not that the elephants were complaining – the sugarcane and peanuts were being sold like hotcakes! The elephants would raise their trunks and open their mouths to await the peanuts and collect multiple pieces of cane before gobbling them up.
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After that was another show, this time with 5 older elephants (I remember two were aged 31 and one was 40+) who came from around Malaysia, as well as one rescued from Myanmar! The centre has 37 elephants in total! The sound system during the show was a little hard to hear – fuzzy.
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One of the staff explained all the different tricks the elephants could do, as well as their age and background. Each elephant and their mahout demonstrated one skill each, such as using either the leg or the trunk to allow the mahout up, dragging logs/chains, picking up items and lying down to allow administration of medication.
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Then afterwards it was bath time! Sadly none of us brought a change of clothes of towel and ended up letting other people have our tickets (since it’s limited to 100). We thought that we could watch by the riverside but there was no riverbank – only observation decks (at least there was shade). Our guide was kind enough to say he would ask the other guides to not splash us/let the elephant splash us but we declined. That’s ok, another trip to the sanctuary is always welcome!
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Note: If you want to participate in the bathing, bring extra clothes and expect to wear a shirt and shorts over your swimmers. Saw one of the guides asking some tourists whether they had anything to wear on top (skimpy shirts don’t count) of their bathing suits (expected since Malaysia is a Muslim country after all).

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Feeding the babies

It was absolutely scorching after 11am. Everyone was sweating buckets during the second feeding (after lunch) and while watching the elephants bathe.
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All in all a lovely day trip outside the city and one all of us would make again (with a change of clothes of course). Highly recommended for people who want something different from the concrete jungle and cafe-hopping.

Here’s hoping it gets more support and recognition.

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