Coolest......Day......Ever!!

Trip Start Oct 12, 2010
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28
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Trip End Mar 24, 2011


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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Every now and then, you have one of those days that makes you feel glad to be alive and reaffirms that we live in a magical, wonderful world!  I spent today at an incredible spot - the Elephant Nature Park north of Chiang Mai. 

http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/aboutus.htm

Thailand has a diminishing population of Asian Elephants and I knew I wanted to see and experience these beautiful animals while I had the opportunity but I don't feel comfortable with the concept of elephant shows or rides.  This camp was the perfect fit for what I had in mind and it was so much more than I could have imagined.

The camp was begun by a local conservationist from a hilltribe in Northern Thailand.  Her name is Lek Chailert and she is the grand-daughter of a tribal shaman (healer).  Her family was given an elephant as payment for her grandfather's services and so she grew up feeling very familiar with the animals.  She has spent the last 18 years rescuing injured and mistreated elephants and she has set up a conservation park where they can roam freely and learn to be 'wild' again after being domesticated and often ill-treated.

We learned a lot about elephants today - from watching documentaries to talking to those who care for the elephants and also interacting with the majestic beasts ourselves for the whole day.  Many of the elephants in Thailand were caught and domesticated to work on farms or in the logging industry, where they were forced, in effect, to destroy their own habitat.  When logging was banned in this country a number of years ago, many of these tamed animals were abandoned, sold to Burma (where logging is still legal) or they were forced into other demeaning activities such as begging on the streets in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.  Tourism activities such as elephant treks or elephant rides give another option for these animals to be useful but some mahouts (handlers or trainers) are not very experienced and so use violence and aggression to control their animals.

We watched a disturbing but all too real film on the traditional methods for 'domesticating' elephants which involves separating young elephants from their mothers, keeping them in wooden cages, depriving them of sleep and food and continually beating and poking them with pointed, sharp sticks to break their spirit and teach them to obey their masters.  This torture can go on for days and the 'training' is ongoing for weeks.  This process is known here in Thailand as "phajaan".

There are 35 elephants at the Elephant Nature Park, including 2 naughty but charming babies and a mixed group of others that were all rescued from deplorable situations.  Although most of these animals are not related, once they came together in the park, they independently formed 5 or 6 distinct herds and these groups stick together, are incredibly loyal and protect each other.  It's really beautiful to see.  Once the elephants experience love and kindness, they begin to show it to each other and to the humans around them too.  There were amazing and sometimes very touching stories about the animals we saw today.  Several of the elephants were limping because they had their legs injured in land mine accidents and one had a broken back and was moving around but was quite crippled.  Another female elephant lost her baby on a precarious hill when it was born (it fell down the hill and died) and she refused to work after she lost the baby, so her owner poked at her eyes with sharp sticks to try and force her to work again, blinding her in both eyes.  Once she was rescued and brought to the camp, another female elephant immediately 'adopted' her and they are inseparable friends - very touching to see.

This camp is an amazing experience that I can't adequately put into words.  It doesn't allow casual drop-in visitors - all visits must be pre-arranged and when you are there, you immediately get to 'meet' the elephants, then feed them by hand, bathe them in the river and show them affection by patting or rubbing them.  They are truly wonderful animals - they have such personality and are quite interactive.  When you feed them, you put the fruit or vegetables in their trunk and the trunks feel kind of rough and scratchy (though the ends are wet and drippy :)  They are smart and always thinking of ways to get ALL the food at once, instead of bit by bit.  They love going down to the river and splashing themselves or being 'bathed' by having buckets of water tossed on them to cool them down.  After they come out of the water, though, they take trunkfuls of sand or mud and throw it all over themselves as 'sunscreen' to keep themselves cool (it's like an elephant spa down by the river).  We all got busy romping with the elephants in the shallow water - they really liked that.  Their skin is about an inch thick but is very sensitive and they like finding a tree or post and rubbing up against it to scratch themselves when they are itchy.

I feel what these conservationists are doing is very noble and so worthwhile and I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have had the chance in my life to spend one day opening my mind and my heart to these fantastic creatures.  We all need a little more kindness and goodness to permeate our lives and to show it to other beings, don't we?
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Comments

Renena on

Love this entry!!! Wow . . . what an incredible experience!! The stories of these elephants are very heartwarming!! :) So wonderfully awesome!

Sue on

What a wonderful experience!

Jamie Lowther on

An amazing place....so good for the soul. Thanks for sharing it with us, Al.

Margaret on

How lucky you are to have spent some time with these amazing animals...I envy you xx

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