Today I was humbled by being amongst the magnificent creatures we know as elephants. The elephant is deeply rooted in the Thai culture – from deities to be worshiped through to work animals and sadly now, even props for street beggars. I researched the many elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and found this wonderful organization called the Elephant Nature Park: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/. I took the half-day tour, and all worked incredibly smooth with payment, quick email confirmations and transportation. This organization is also home to other animals (cows, water buffaloes, etc.) and also rescues dogs – lots of happy dogs here looking for their new forever homes 🙂
Created and run by a woman truly living her life’s passion (Lek Chailert), I chose this park because of her deep commitment to the humane rescue of Thai elephants. Especially … NO RIDING!!!!! Just observing these beautiful animals allowed to roam free.
Situated about 1 hour north of Chiang Mai, Thailand, Lek’s created the perfect environment for this herd of rescued elephants. Lots of open land, dirt to play in and most importantly …. a river to bathe and play!
I clicked through about 20 photos when I saw my first elephant wandering up to the feeding platform. And then I stopped and looked around, and as far as I could see, there were elephants wandering about with their friends and families. Quite overwhelming and humbling.
Lek has taken in many elephants rescued from street begging and logging enterprises, blinded and spiritually broken souls, and even elephants wounded by landmines. They have a vast reserve to wander freely within, and all mahouts (trainers) work through positive reinforcement (food!) with absolutely no hooks.
We began with a safety overview of how to interact with the elephants, then went right into feeding them. I love how gentle and dexterous they are with their trunks, however don’t get on the wrong side of these appendages as they can send you flying before you even know you were hit 🙂 The dog in the pic below was sent flying soon after this was taken by one mighty kick of a back foot!
After a wonderful lunch buffet of fresh cooked Thai food, we then headed down to the river to bathe the elephants. They seemed as content as we were getting a soaking in the cool river water. Of course, the clean elephants then headed straight to the mud pit to layer on the dirt that works as a protective sunscreen & bug repellent!Then it was off to see the babies. Incredibly moving to see these youngsters (1 year and up) and their protective adoptive herd “mommas & aunties” 🙂 It seemed the full herd of over 30 elephants was out and wandering freely with us strange humans scattered amongst them – observing close up their interactions and games. The young baby girl was so funny to watch. All of a sudden, she’d come forward towards a group of the humans and we’d have to move out of her way – partly because her idea of “play” could overwhelm us tiny people but also because the aunties and mommas are typically following close behind. At one point, the baby girl started loudly trumpeting – a sign of distress (though our guide Sai said she likes to act out for the attention and the response she gets from the others in the herd!) Well, she definitely got a response – and we had to move very quickly to get out of the path of 3 charging elephants all moving to surround and protect the baby. Amazing!!!!!
After a final feeding, it was time to head home. What an awe-inspiring experience. If you are traveling in this country, the Elephant Nature Park is highly recommended. 100% of your tourist money goes directly to rescuing these elephants (and dogs!) Just in case you are inspired after reading this, here’s their website one more time: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/