4th October 2014
Before coming to Thailand, I’d already decided I would not be riding an elephant. I had heard horrendous stories of how elephants are tortured to enable them to become the ‘tame’ elephants that are able to be ridden. I didn’t want to support such barbaric treatment of these majestic creatures. After a little research on the internet, I found the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. An ethical park, founded by one lady Lek Chailert, who opened up this sanctuary in 1996. Here you can spend the day learning about the elephants, feeding them, walking with them, and washing them in the river. I was so excited to be going here as I have always loved elephants. I always remember going to the zoo as a little girl, and at the end of the day I would always want to go and see the elephants one more time, and my Dad would always take me back to see them again.
When we arrived we were taken to the feeding area, where you place bunches of bananas, and whole pumpkins and melons, into the curl of the end of the trunk, where the elephant will promptly pop it into his mouth, crunch on the tough melon skins, or chomp on the bananas, ten at a time, skins included!
Crunching on a tasty melon
Next up was an hour long video on the elephants, their history, and the elephants’ treatment in general in both the logging and tourism industries. This was so saddening. Basically when an elephant is taken from the wild, they are put into a box crate where they can’t move, and for up to a week or more they are beaten and tortured continually through night and day, sharp spikes poked into their sensitive bodies, they are kicked, and beaten, basically into submission, until their spirit is broken. Now for the fear and pain from this torture, they do as their new ‘master’ now forces them to do.
A particular story that sticks in my head is one of a pregnant elephant that was working as a logging elephant at the time. She was at the top of the hill when she went into labour, and after giving birth to her baby it rolled down the hill and died. She had lost her baby, and because of this she went into a deep depression and refused to work. Her owner’s response to this? He stabbed her in both eyes, blinding her permanently. This absolutely sickens me to my core and I have no idea what makes someone capable of doing this. That’s not lack of education that’s just downright evil. She was rescued by Lek and now lives at the sanctuary with other elephant friends. There are other elephants with leg deformities and other lasting injuries suffered at the hands of their owners.
The elephant on the left with a permanently deformed leg through his previous treatment 😦
Unfortunately elephant tourism is still big business throughout South East Asia, but education is helping to move things forward, slowly. Please, if you go to one of these countries, think twice about getting on an elephant. Chucking water over their head and actually watching them smile, is much more fun!
This was the best part of the day, washing them in the river! They were loving it!
The mountain of bananas for feeding the elephants!
A happy elephant
The baby of the bunch!
I took a photo of this spider….
Only to then see this wasp attack it!
And meet it’s grisly end! (The spider…not the wasp!)
The park was also home to several rescued cats!
Later in the afternoon we went on a walk with the elephants through the fields that they were free to roam. It was amazing just ambling alongside these grand creatures in the hot afternoon sun. We followed them to another river and watched them bathe and splash each other.
We were also lucky to have the opportunity to meet the founder, Lek. You can see the special bond she shares with the elephants. It is her mission to educate mahouts (the elephant trainers) that the traditional methods of torture and beatings are not required to train an elephant, it can actually be done with love and nurturing…
The staff and volunteers were taking some promotional photos for The Global March for the Elephant and Rhino, against the use of ivory.
At the end of the day we went back to the feeding area and got to feed them lots of mushy pumpkin which they absolutely loved!
This was absolutely one of the best experiences of my life, and if you are ever in Thailand, you must go!