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Travel Report: Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary – Kerala, India.

Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary Kerala India April 2004

April 2004. Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary was one of Kerala’s most respected elephant training centres. Set in and around the Malayattoor Forest Range on the southern banks of The Periyar River, I came here at the tail end of my India travels in 2004 to meet, feed and wash Kodanad’s community of loveable elephants.

Kodanad Elephant Training Centre Kerala India.

Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary, India.

April 2004. Kodanad wasn’t the best elephant adventure I’ve had during my travels (that honor goes to Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park in Thailand), but it was my first time going face to face with these amazing creatures. Dating back to the 1950s, this used to be the region’s largest elephant centre, although I read that these days it’s a comparatively small operation. The government’s ban on the capturing of wild elephants hasn’t helped, so they’ve had to broaden their horizons and take on other animals. I remember we met about half a dozen elephants on the day of my visit and our arrival was expertly timed for morning bathing.

Trainer with baby Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary Kerala India 2004

Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary, India.

April 2004. We live in an unparalleled age of accessible information. As travellers we‘re now much more clued up about what’s really going on in the world and well versed in the dos and don’ts of responsible tourism. Back in 2004 though the Internet was in its infancy and, speaking frankly, I was a little wet behind the ears. I don’t think I was even aware about elephant cruelty and certainly didn’t do any research on Kodanad prior to my visit. Glancing over some of the recent reviews on TripAdvisor and I can see a few damning reports regarding elephant treatment. All I can say is that I don’t recall seeing any abusive behaviour, nor indeed any evidence of chains. In fact, as this photo hopefully attests, in most cases I witnessed a strong and intimate bond between trainer and beast. To me, even as a native youngster, these elephants did not look unhappy in any way.

Visit Kodanad Elephant Training Centre Kerala India.

Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary, India.

April 2004. That’s not to say I think Kodanad was/is squeaky clean, there’s always room for improvement I guess. The centre was gearing up for some kind of local elephant festival that day, so some of the animals were being dressed and taken to town for the festivities. The elephant is the most auspicious of animals in India and is often integrated into celebratory events. At the time I remember thinking this was great but now, looking back, I have mixed feelings about it.

Group photo Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary April 2004

Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary, India.

April 2004. With my muddled, long-ago memories and some very sad online reviews it’s impossible for me to recommend Kodanad Elephant Sanctuary with any kind of authority. For anyone thinking of visiting, I would advise you to do your research. The park is located deep in the heart of rural Kerala about fifty kilometers from the city of Kochi. A whole host of tour operators will take away the hassle of getting in an out, such as Please also note that some of the recommended elephant sanctuaries out there include Punnathur Kotta Elephant Sanctuary and Kerala Elephant Rehabilitation Centre.

Like this? Why not check out more reports from my long ago trip to India.

For a more detailed and personalized account of my time in India, have a look at my short story collection Incidents in India.

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