Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand – full day tour review

The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand is doing an amazing job rescuing, treating and rehabilitating captured wild animals. They also help domestic animals in need. Rescue, rehabilitate and release is their motto. Many of the rescued animals are treated for severe PTSS due to both physical and mental abuse. Unfortunately, release isn’t always an option, which is why the sanctuary is so important. It gives the animals the opportunity to live out their lives in an environment as close to nature as possible while receiving the high-quality care they need. The tour gives anyone that’s interested in visiting an ethical animal sanctuary in Thailand the opportunity to see some of the great work that WFFT is doing.

We’ve been following and supporting the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand for a long time. So when it turned out our route through Thailand and Malaysia would bring us close to the foundation’s base of operations and that it was possible to stay at their I Love Phants Lodge and do a full-day tour, we didn’t hesitate. Well, maybe a little bit if I’m completely honest. We’re budget travelers and staying at the I Love Phants Lodge was a bit pricier than our usual accommodations. But we didn’t have to think about it for very long. This was something we really wanted to share with our little world traveler. 

FlipFlopGlobetrotters Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand feeding an elephant
Since this is an ethical animal sanctuary it’s all hands-off and there’s no bathing or petting the elephants, but under the watchful eye of the staff we did get to feed these awesome giants

Quick overview

The full-day tour includes a guided walking tour and a guided driving tour. The walking tour takes you past the elephant enclosures, the bear area, and into the nocturnal forest and past some of the gibbons. It’s followed by a quick visit to the gift shop and a tasty buffet lunch. After lunch, it’s time for the driving tour, where you see more elephants and many other animals in wildlife open enclosures. This is followed by a visit to the tiger rescue center and a meet and greet with an elephant.

It’s important to note that the WFFT promotes responsible eco-tourism and follows a complete hands-off protocol for anyone but the vets and the handlers. You do get to feed some of the elephants, but no touching or petting. At all other times, you are to stay at least 1 meter away from the animal enclosures, for your own safety and that of the animals. Please be aware that the stories and information shared on the tour can be quite gruesome but for educational purposes, there’s no use in romanticizing the truth. 

Walking tour


Our tour started at the enclosure of Pai Lin, one of the oldest elephant residents at the sanctuary. She’s now around 71 years old, which is incredible as in captivity elephants often don’t live past 40. And in the wild elephants only live to about 60. When she came to live at the WFFT sanctuary back in 2007 she was malnourished and generally in poor physical condition. Her back was deformed from carrying a heavy seat with up to 6 tourists at a time and she had spent a long time begging on the streets. Now this amazing lady is physically healthy again, due to the excellent care of the WFFT’s vets. Her dietary needs are met, with grounded food and nutritional supplements. 

Our tour guide Nathalie explains how elephants are domesticated, through the grueling process of Phajaan (which means ‘crushing’ in Thai). We talked about this before in our 2016 post Why you should never ride an elephant, but I’ll explain again. Phajaan is the process of breaking the elephant’s spirit and crushing it until it submits to humans. Elephants would never voluntarily work for people, they’re wild animals. 

So how does this terrible process of elephant crushing work? Baby elephants are taken away from their mothers, who are often killed. If the baby elephant is taken from the wild, it’s not uncommon for the whole herd to be slaughtered as they are very protective of their young. The baby then gets put in a tiny crush cage where its fragile legs are bound by ropes. Then it’s relentlessly beaten with metal tools and bull hooks and deprived of food and water. After weeks and weeks of extremely traumatizing mental and physical torture, a new mahout comes to the scene. He’s the ‘savior’, offering the poor abused baby elephant food and water to gain its trust. Obviously this is just another form of manipulation. All this is done so the elephant can either be used for logging (which was banned in Thailand in 1989) or as a tourist attraction, carrying people around on its back. 

All 23 elephants at WFFT were domesticated through this process when they were babies. And afterward, they were forced to work for humans, often in terrible circumstances. Now these elephants get to live out their lives in peace, in large enclosures of up to 44 acres with natural trees, lakes and grazing areas.

FlipFlopGlobetrotters Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand elephant enclosure
The rescued elephants at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand have lots of space to roam and spend the rest of their lives in peace


Next we visit the bears. There are two species of bears native to Thailand, Asian Black Bears and Malayan Sun Bears. The rescue center is home to both. There are a total of 43 bears at the sanctuary. Sun Bears are sometimes also known as dog bears. They’re often poached from the wild and see their mother slaughtered before their eyes. They’re very cute when they are young so people want them as pets. But after a while the cute little bear gets bigger and more aggressive and the owners can’t handle it anymore. In the most positive scenario they get brought to WFFT or another rescue center directly, but many of them suffer terrible abuse in small cages before the owners give them up.

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Sun Bear
At 1.4m tall the Malayan Sun Bears are the smallest bear species

The Asian Black Bears suffer an even worse fate. They’re poached and sold on the black market for their bile or paws. Bear bile is extracted from live bears. It is known to have medicinal properties, but as there are now herbal and synthetic alternatives there’s absolutely no need for the cruelty of bear bile extraction. In the wild Asian Black Bears can live up to 25-30 years, in captivity they’re ‘lucky’ if they reach the age of 10. In a truly horrible way, the bile is extracted from the gall bladder. In the 1980s bear bile farms shot up all around Asia. The bile is ‘harvested’ either through a free drip method, where a hole in the bear’s gall bladder is continuously reopened, through a needle that’s inserted in its gall bladder or through the insertion of a permanent catheter. 

Another terrible practice is bear paw soup. Despite it being illegal all over the world, except in China, it’s also known to be popular in other Asian countries. It’s a truly vile practice, but very profitable. Consuming the paw of the bear supposedly gives the consumer the power and strength of a bear. But especially barbaric is the way it is ‘harvested’. In order to be the most potent, the poor bear’s paw is hacked off while it’s still alive, in front of the consumer. All over Asia raids are done and bear paws are discovered in freezers, among other illegal animal parts that are often used in Chinese medicine. 

Slow lorises

We continue on to the nocturnal forest where we get to see slow lorises. Well, see is a big word. As they are nocturnal they are mostly sleeping during the day but we spotted a few safely tucked away in hiding spots in their enclosures. They appear very cute. This is exactly why they are often kept by humans, either as pets or to be used as photo props. But don’t be fooled by their cuteness. The slow loris is the only primate species with a toxic bite… that can be lethal. For this reason, when they are captured the loris’ teeth are removed and they are kept drugged. Because they are nocturnal they don’t tolerate the light very well and many captive lorises develop eye problems or even blindness. The slow lorises at WFFT get a special diet because they can’t chew anymore. 

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Slow Loris
Since they’re nocturnal the slow loris sleeps during the day


The forest is also used to rehabilitate the gibbons. There currently are about 80 gibbons at the center. Gibbons brought to the wildlife rescue center or those rescued by the foundation go through three stages. First, there’s the quarantine stage that all animals at the center go through. Then they go to the rehabilitation forest, where they live in large enclosures, to relearn their natural instinct to stay off the ground and in trees. In order to survive their natural enemy the monitor lizard, they need to be able to stay up high. They’re also introduced to others of their species in the hopes of finding them a partner so they can form a family group (gibbons are monogamous). Once that happens they get their own gibbon island to live on. Gibbons, like all monkeys, can’t swim, so an island is a perfect way to contain them naturally. 

FlipFlopGlobetrotters - Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Gibbon info sign
On some of the enclosures, there are signs with more info about the animals

The aim of the WFFT is always to release the animals back into the wild, but unfortunately, it’s been 10 years since a gibbon could successfully be released. Gibbons are often poached illegally. The mothers get shot from the trees and don’t survive and the babies get taken and sold on the black market as pets or photo props. They get treated like humans and either lose or don’t develop their natural instincts. Which is why it’s so hard to release them back into the wild. 


FlipFlopGlobetrotters Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Gibbon
Of course, we’d rather see them roaming free but we’re happy the gibbons at WFFT get good care.

Gift shop and lunch

After about two hours of walking, it’s time to head to the gift shop, where there’s also a shop to buy some cold drinks. Unfortunately, the stop at the gift shop was a bit rushed and we would have liked a bit more time to look around. Now we barely had time to pick some shirts and we didn’t get to fit our little world travelers shirt and it turns out to be too small. Hopefully, the WFFT will get their webshop up and running soon and we can get another shirt for him. 

The included lunch is buffet style and delicious. There were various spicy and non-spicy Thai dishes to choose from and a choice of chicken or vegetarian. With fresh fruit for dessert. We really liked the variety. 

FlipFlopGlobetrotters Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand lunch buffet
Delicious buffet-style Thai lunch

Driving tour

Appreciating the magnitude of WFFT

After lunch, we got on the open tour bus for the driving part of the tour. We drove past Project 1, the very first animal enclosures and then along some of the newer enclosures. You get to appreciate the magnitude of this massive operation. The 80 hectares (almost 2000 acres) of land are home to over 700 animals of 63 different species. Around 100 staff members, mostly volunteers, take care of the animals and the property (which includes the I Love Phants Lodge where we stayed). WFFT has an animal rescue center, an elephant sanctuary, a wildlife hospital and has recently reopened their dog and cat spay clinic located between Hua Hin and Cha Am. 

FlipFlopGlobetrotters Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand tour bus
While driving around the WFFT in the open tour bus, you can fully appreciate the sheer size of this operation

On the tour, we saw different types of macaques, otters, turtles, lizards, more elephants, bears and gibbons. Our guide Nathalie was very knowledgeable and told us a lot about all the various animals. She was also great at answering all our questions. At some of the enclosures, we got off the bus to get a closer look and more information. Like at the tiger rescue center.

Tiger rescue center

It’s absolutely mind-blowing to realize that there are an estimated 2000 tigers in captivity in Thailand alone, while there are only about 150 left in the wild. The number of captive tigers has rapidly increased in the past years. There’s an active trade in illegal animals, both alive and dead. And sadly, tigers are worth more dead than alive. All parts of the tiger can get sold on the black market for good money. Baby tigers get taken away from their mothers way too soon and used as photo props. Severely sedated of course. The mothers are often used for speed breeding because little tigers grow up and aren’t nearly as cute as the babies. 

FlipFlopGlobetrotters Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Tiger taking a bath
The rescued tigers feel right at home at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Phuket Zoo had been on WFFT’s radar for a while. With the decline in tourism since Covid the zoo couldn’t take care of their tigers and bears anymore. So WFFT launched the biggest tiger rescue in Thailand’s history at the start of 2022. All 11 tigers (and two bears) were brought from Phuket to WFFT in Petchaburi. Over the course of 5 months, from January to June, the foundation managed to both raise the funds and create all the enclosures so the animals could be housed comfortably. 

After the tigers, we got back on the bus to finish up the tour. 


We would recommend the tour at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand to everyone interested in wildlife rescue and ethical wildlife sanctuaries, in particular ethical elephant sanctuaries in Thailand. Suited for families, couples and single travelers alike. The tour is very informative and educational and great value for money. We already knew quite a bit of the background info, but still learned a lot and it was great to see the extent of WFFT’s facilities. 

For guests at the I Love Phants Lodge on WFFT’s grounds there’s a discounted tour price. Staying at the Lodge is definitely a great experience. Read our full review of our stay at the I Love Phants Lodge

If you’d like to know more, check out these links:





*please note that we weren’t compensated for this post. We paid for our own tour and it was worth every penny*

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