Back in 2011, found this article in a dusty corner of my laptop…
For a country that seems to revere elephants, Thailand seems to treat them rather shabbily. It could be poverty or simply easy profiteering that drove the people so. As travelers to Chiang Mai, taking elephant rides, treks and attending elephant shows seem to be de rigueur but I have come to learn from my recent first visit to Chiang Mai, that is not so.
I am no stranger to Lek of Elephant Nature Park (www.elephantnaturepark.org) and her fight to educate on the protection of one of Thailand’s most beloved national icon and to save as many distressed elephants with whatever scarce resources that she has.
The decision to put a day aside to see her work up close was a very remarkable and enriching experience in an oasis of calm, 60km from the city, in valley set in the midst of nature with a river running through it.
The day tour was very well organized and informative, the limited number of visitors for the day was broken into small groups to be led by a dedicated host. An overview on the focus of the Nature Park is given, followed by close up views of the some of the herds with explanation on the behaviour and daily lives of these lucky ones who were saved
This was followed by a feeding session. Watching the elephants come sashaying up with their small sad eyes, makes you feel frustrated why these gentle and huge creatures must be torn from their natural world, where they are on the endangered list, into begging in the cities, where there is too much heat, not enough food and water for their well being, forced into shows that are so gruelling that their hind legs are broken, carry the weight of tourists so heavy that their backs are ruined, blinded by their logging owner because they are not obeying. Every single one of them has a heart breaking past.
After a provided lunch, we are taken down to the river to get really close and help the elephants take their afternoon bath and learn yet more about their past and how they have come to find their happiness here in this very rare sanctuary.
We then retreated to the AV room and were shown an eye opening video (amidst snacks and coffee) how elephants are broken and coerced into docility to act like some dumb circus animals for rides and shows.
Elephants are not domestic animals and they are not made to be ridden on and to work in shows, The so called traditional methods to break them is not only extremely cruel and devoid of dignity, it is also nerve racking and distressing for the babies, as they have to be taken from their parent from young and trained whilst they can still be controlled. It is also excruciatingly painful and scarring.
The right way to see these great creatures are in their natural habitat, seeing them standing in herds swaying under some trees in the great valley is a sight to behold. Seeing them come up to us, taking food from our hands, enjoying their river bath with our help, that’s the way to have a truly meaningful interaction, not some static show or sitting on their backs!
All the elephants arrived sick and broken and most of them, some of them just could not pull through, have recovered and are now enjoying their idyllic existence for whatever is the rest of their lives.
As informed travelers, the best you can do is spend a day at the park, stay overnight or even volunteer for a period time. All proceeds go into the maintenance and well being of these creatures that we do have to protect and not exploit.
Jokia is one story that for me, epitomized the sad tale of ill treatment.
Jokia was a logging elephant that got pregnant; the ignorant logging owner of hers was not aware and pushed her on to her heavy duties right up to the moment of birth. Her baby died, distraught, Jokia simply refused to move or carry on. Enraged at being unable to work her, the owner blinded her in one eye. Upon further tugs of supremacy, the owner facing a loosing battle to exert control, blinded her other eye. Lek managed to buy her after many attempts with funds raised and brought blind Jokia back to the sanctuary. Upon arrival, the fist thing Jokia did was to amble straight into the river to treat herself to a bath, delighted at the cool water in the backyard and the good vibes she was getting all round. Mae Perm, another elephant, who has taken onto herself to be her guide and eyes, also immediately took her under her wings. It is quite a wonderful world at times.
To visit the park, please make advance arrangement online or book your spot with the town ticketing office in the night bazaar area of Chiang Mai City.
oh….this was in the past, go online and book a spot in advance, they are really busy these days!!