A day at the Elephant Nature Park

Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
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Trip End Jan 12, 2010


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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

One of my earliest childhood memories (apart from Dan and I playing in our Postman Pat van) is crying inconsolably to mum and dad after watching a documentary on African elephants. I have always adored these huge intelligent creatures and our day at the Elephant Nature Park was a dream come true.

We were picked up from our hotel at 8am and taken 60kms north of Chiang Mai into a beautiful valley. Here Lek (Sangduen Chailert) has made a home for over 30 elephants, Lek lives to help elephants, she is a little lady (Lek means small) but several members of her staff told us she has a really big heart - and that is very apparent. She started with one elephant back in 1995 and now there are 33.

Most have been saved from the logging trade, which has been illegal in Thailand since 1989, others worked as street begging elephants in the cities. Next month they will rescue an elephant from Krabi, in Southern Thailand, a man from Hong Kong spotted her chained up in a hotel and he's donating the $40,000 needed to pay off the current owner.

Our favourite was Medo, we spent most of the day with her. She was rescued from an intensive breeding programme and as you can see from the photos, she has broken hips and trouble walking. The friendship between the elephants is incredibly touching. Mae Do has been befriended by an older female elephant, Mae Mai, who spends all day walking slowly beside her. Another elephant, Jokia, was abused and tortured by her logging owner and is now blind in both eyes. When Jokia arrived Mae Perm (Lek's first elephant) adopted her and looks after her. Each new arrival to the park chooses their own family group, there are 5 groups now.

When we arrived at the camp we were shown around, had a yummy hot chocolate and then it was feeding time. Each elephant has their own basket, the vet on site makes sure they eat the right balance of sugars - otherwise some of the male elephants can get too excited ! We fed Mae Perm, the longest resident, she must be in her 70s. We then had our own really delicious buffet lunch watching the elephants wandering around the valley.

After lunch we put on our wellie boots and went to the river to bathe the elephants. Not many people have the chance to get this close to elephants and I felt honoured, but also a little cautious. They are so enormous and powerful. Their skin feels really tough and they are actually quite hairy! There were a couple of naughty elephants, one called Hope, who was rescued as an orphan and Lek raised him herself. He's bit of a pickle, but not as much as the charging toddler, who made a game of chasing the humans around. That would be lots of fun if his whole family didn't follow - I fell in the mud when running away from him, which Paul found hilarious. It is hard to run in wellies that are too big - so I just jumped in the river to wash off the mud and bathed alongside the elephants! There are 2 very young elephants, born earlier in the summer and we managed to get close to them. It was magical.

Lek's park doesn't just save elephants, they have a pack of rescued dogs and cats and cows from all over and many of the mahouts (each elephant has a mahout - a sort of guardian/trainer) come from the Burmese refugee camps up by the Thai border. She supports them and their families and they learn English from the volunteers.

We had thought a lot about which of the various elephant experiences based out of Chaing Mai we should choose, and the Elephant Nature Park is not cheap compared to other elephant treks offered. On the way back to Chiang Mai we saw about 50 elephants chained up for the night at one of the tourist elephant camps. I knew that they had spent the day taking tourists on treks and I was glad we chose to watch the elephants playing and getting on with life.

Elephant trekking is not necessarily wrong, in fact if there were no tourists taking rides on elephants then there would be hundreds of unemployed elephants with nowhere to go, it's just so hard to know if they are well treated and more importantly how they were trained. In the afternoon we sat down with an iced lemon tea and watched a documentary on Lek's work. She runs a mobile vet service called 'Jumbo Express' that helps educate people on elephant care. At the end they showed how elephants are trained and subdued. Ever wondered why elephants are such good painters ? They are kept in a cage for a week, tortured and sleep deprived until they conform. No surprise really that documentaries on elephants still make me cry.

In the late afternoon we had another feeding session and watched the elephants bathe again. We had so many amazing opportunities to interact with the elephants. We got back to Chiang Mai at 7pm tired but happy. It was a childhood dream come true, I feel very lucky to have been able to experience it - a day I will always remember.
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Comments

rfbevis
rfbevis on

elephants
It's confession time...we did one of those tourist treks during our organised trip to Thailand.
Your vist is so much better. You really had a good time!
The babies look really sweet and no - you can't take one home!!

Love Ma

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