Elephant Nature Park

Trip Start Sep 20, 2010
1
59
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Trip End Dec 18, 2011


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Where I stayed
Mud House

Flag of Thailand  , Mae Hong Son,
Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Elephant Nature Park was something that I had been looking forward to for ages. Since the first time I was in Thailand (ten years ago!-Kevin added that he thinks it's funny because it makes me old) I have had a thing about elephants and I was really excited at the prospect of spending a week with them.  We heard about ENP from a girl we met in India so it’s been a long time coming!

It’s quite a unique park. It’s really a sanctuary for abused and mistreated elephants. Started in the 90’s by a woman named Lek it is now home to over 36 elephants of all ages. They are free to roam about the parks 150 acres and live life as closely to that of a wild elephant as they can, given their dependency on humans.

Day 1

We arrived at the office on Monday morning looking forward to the week and hoping that we would have an ok group without too many annoying people…..we were lucky! Usually the group size is about 40 people, even 50 in peak season, but there were only 20 people which made it a lot easier to get to know everyone.  After registration we all got into mini vans and headed out to the park, 60km away.  After an introduction with our group coordinator, Chet, we were shown the kitchen and the feeding area.  Then we were taken out for a first view of the park and the elephants and what an impressive sight it was. Everywhere you looked there were big hulking grey elephants. Up close by the feeding platform, off in the distance in the trees and down by the river which encircles the park. It was amazing to see them so close and so free.

The first day was quite easy because we were more like visitors and were taken to feeding time, bath time and on an elephant walk.  Unlike the day visitors, however, we were forced into a massive water fight at bathing time – luckily no one got a massive poo thrown at them – because Chet knew we had a change of clothes with us.  Job wise we only emptied a truck full of cucumbers and bananas this day.  Hard work was to follow! In the evening we had to introduce ourselves to the group and tell everyone our special skills.  Kevin’s was work avoidance and mine was budgeting – everyone must have thought we were really exciting people! We were also welcomed to the park by the village chief in a traditional welcome ceremony. This was an interesting insight into traditional Thai culture.

Day 2

Day 2 was day 1 of work for us.  We were in group B and our first task was Ele food.  This meant lugging bags of fruit around, throwing them into a trough of water, leaving them to soak for 10 minutes and then washing them with a brush.  Food preparation also involved making banana balls for the old elephants who can’t eat hard food because their teeth have worn away.  To make banana balls you put loads of squidgy near-mouldy bananas into a big bowl, mush it up with your hands and then add corn powder and ground rice until the consistency is dry but sticky.  Then you make it into balls.  Probably not a recipe many of you will use regularly but thought you might find it interesting! 

We met Lek on day 2, the lady who started the park in 1995 which was very educational.  She talked us through her history and how the park developed.  She started with only 4 elephants that she had rescued from either illegal logging or the tourist industry that were badly treated – one of them called Lily, for example, had 2 owners so was forced to carry tourists in the day and do illegal logging in the night, working all the time.  In order to ensure she didn’t get tired her owners fed her a diet of speed which caused her psychological problems after a while.  From those beginnings Lek now has 36 elephants in the park, all with similar stories but a happy outlook for the rest of their lives.  Our afternoon on this day was somewhat disturbed when a male elephant in musth (randy) broke his chains and started to run riot around the park.  Eventually they were able to catch him without the government vet having to tranquilize him and everything went back to normal.  It’s crazy how one elephant can cause so much drama though and bring normal routine to a halt!

This evening involved a Thai cultural lesson.  I'm not too sure what we learnt but it was good fun! After attempting to get us to speak some Thai - no easy feat as being a tonal language it's tough for us to get our heads around, we go to sing some songs.  The banana dance was hilarious from our coordinators and if you get us enough drinks when we're home we might demonstrate the genious of it to you!

Day 3

Day 3 and the rain started! Rain, in Thailand….it’s not the rainy season! But rain it did.  Constantly.  Our job for the morning was cutting corn so we were driven out of the park to corn fields, handed a machete each and set to work.  We’d actually been quite excited about the prospect of cutting corn but as the rain just kept coming down we began to start wishing we could go back to bed where it was warm! It was quite satisfying though working as a team and watching all the corn being cleared.  Once it was bundled we then had to carry the bundles to the truck.  Bearing in mind it was very muddy there were some moments that we thought we would slip trying to balance and carry a relatively heavy bundle on our backs, in our arms, or wherever felt comfortable.  When we got back to the park we were well and truly ready for lunch!

In the afternoon we were saved from work because we went on a walk around the whole park going to visit the elephants.  It was really great to wander around with them and feed them some more and get a better idea of who hangs out with who.  It’s very hard to remember all the names but you could start to recognise some of the groups.  We got a bit of a show from Hope, one of the young horny male elephants when he decided to hump one of the females.  To start with we weren’t sure she was interested because she did a number 1 and a number 2 as he came up behind her, but she still let him go for it so we decided that it may be a whole seduction thing on the part of the female. 

In the afternoon we went into the village and were involved in a religious festival where the park and various individuals made monetary donations to the temple.  We weren’t really told what it was for but it was good fun walking through the village with everyone dancing and singing!

Day 4

I was really excited when I woke up on day 4 because it was our groups turn to clean the shelters, i.e. shovel poo! It wasn’t ideal that it was still raining…..non-stop for 36 hours by this point….but I was excited nonetheless!  It’s more like shoveling hay given the consistency but there are some massive ones which are 'exciting' to find and it was new to get involved in cleaning the elephant’s rooms.  Shoveling became the theme for the day.  The planned afternoon jobs were put to the wayside when it was decided the elephants shelters needed sanding because they were very wet and they also needed firewood because they were cold at night.  Given the choice of collecting and carrying wood and shoveling sand I opted for the latter – I assumed it would be easier although my arm and back pains later disagreed with me.  In the pouring rain I alongside Anjuli, Viviene, Bernadette and Sai shoveled sand constantly into 2 tractors which then dumped them inside the shelters.  Kevin was inside the shelter nice and dry spreading the sand around.  He definitely got the easier job!

Being 17 March on Thursday it was also St Patricks day.  Although Kevin was the only Irish person there, as usual everyone got on the band wagon!  Nothing really exciting to tell but as expected a lot of the beer was gone by the end of the night and we were up until 3am. All great craic!

Day 5

We woke up today and the first thing we heard Katie our neighbour say was that the rain has stopped.  Yes it had!!! Poo duties again followed by 2 sessions of sand collecting (me spreading this time and Kevin digging) and we were done for the day.  Although the temperature hadn’t come right up we decided to go tubing down the river that runs through the park – we were upset that we had missed out on a couple of activities because of the rain and decided to take full advantage of the dry weather.  So we loaded up a van, did a beer stop on the way and set off for the 40 minute ride back to the park.  A much more peaceful tubing experience than Vang Vieng and it was great fun. Rounding the last bend to see elephant bathing in the river was a very impressive sight.

Day 6

For the first time this week we got a delivery of melons.  Unlike the cucumbers that come in bags and bananas that come on branches, the melons were just in a pile in the back of a van.  We got ourselves in a line passing melons from the van starting with Shannyn, ending with Berand, and spent 1.5 hours passing melons.  Some people came and went because half way through some fruit needed washing and people were finishing banana balls but myself and a few others were passing melons for the duration.  Talk about repetitive strain injury!

The best part about the day was watching the volunteer video.  For the first 4 days we were followed around by 2 girls who were videoing and take photos of us.  This footage was then edited into a half hour video and a slideshow.  It’s so funny to watch how nervous people were on day one, both around each other and with the elephants.  How minging we all looked doing the various jobs in the pouring rain and how much fun we had anyway.  We followed this up with another run down the tubing route.

Day 7

Day 7 came around very quickly and we all woke up a little sad that it was the last day.  I however had a combination of feelings because despite being sad to leave I was excited that I would see mum that day as she was visiting the park!  At about 10am when I had already shoveled poo and was half way through washing melons she arrived and we gave my group a great show of mother/daughter greeting hugs.  We tried to make the most out of the day by doing all the feeding times, bathing the elephants and preparing more food.  We did another ele walk and went further around the park this time.  We even got to see the big family group playing which was a first.  By 3pm half of the group had already left for Chiang Mai so we decided to cheer ourselves up with one last tubing experience. 

All in all it was an incredible week. The work that Lek and her team are doing is amazing. If anyone is in the Chang Mai area we would highly recommend at least a day visit if not a stint volunteering. It’s not like any other elephant experiences in the area as there is no riding on the elephants and no elephant shows with them doing tricks.  But after seeing the videos of how the elephants are "broken" in order to do these you’ll definitely be happy with the choice you made. If you want to check out the website you can help Lek out by sponsoring an elephant helping to fill and ele belly!

www.elephantnaturepark.org
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