Elephants can kiss.

Trip Start Jul 24, 2009
Trip End Jun 30, 2010

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Where I stayed
Elephant Nature Park

Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Monday, August 10, 2009

I've just spent some time at the Elephant Nature Park which is about 2 hours north of Chiang Mai. It is a sanctuary for rescued elephants where the founder Lek and her staff provided a better life for the elephants they rescue from being mistreated.

Previous to my visit I had ridden on an elephant in Thailand and knew that this had developed as result of logging being banned in 1986 and the elephants finding a new purpose. What I didn't realise was the way in which traditionally the Thai people 'broke in' their elephants. We watched a video where at the end part of this process was shown. I'm not one for telling others what they should believe of think about something but from my point of view it was bloody cruel. In a country where they barely have human rights, animal rights are just unheard of. Google it for yourself and make your own mind up. I just know that if I thought my horse had been through that just so I could ride her I'd be heart broken (I'm sure she wasn't as she is far too sure of herself and her own self importance!). Anyway, it's important to know why this place is so valuable as the elephants come there and are loved, cared for, well fed and have a new lease of life. They have a worthwhile website if you want to read about some of the elephant's stories www.elephantnaturefoundation.org. They range from 82 yrs old to 4 weeks old.

During my stay I was able to feed them both at the feeding platform and also with the older girls who, due to lack of teeth, take longer to eat so are fed away from the main group so their food isn't stolen. I found out that their favorite foods in order of preference are bananas, watermelon, cucumber, pumpkin and banana stalk. I was feeding Mae Tae who has no teeth and whenever I gave her the banana stalks she through them away with her trunk in hope of better stuff! The elephants got taken down to the river everyday and we are given buckets to wash them. Such an amazing feeling to be nearly shoulder deep in the river washing a huge elephant, had to watch out for the poop!

As i was staying over night in the morning I helped out so I was sent to help muck out the pens. I will never moan about mucking India out ever again! Their poo is blooming heavy and so much of it!. After that I was able to go on a walk into the fields to be with the elephants. As these elephants aren't wild you can be amongst them and as long as their mahout (young guy who cares for and commands the elephant) is near they are fine, big but so gentle. It is something I will never forget and I feel privileged being there. The most special moment was when we went into the herd with the 4 week old baby. She bounded over to us and as the pictures show we were really in amongst them. How often can you say you spent the morning playing with a baby elephant? Her Mum really didn't care, she was wondering off and grazing happily. You could stroke and feed them in the field with no worries. On the second morning we went to see a different herd and in that herd was a 1 year old bull who is so so naughty! He has a young boy as his mahout because he is so energetic. As we were standing watching them graze her would spy a gap and come running towards us with his trunk flapping all in jest. His mahout had to be constantly on his toes to try to block him. At one point his mahout was by his bottom and the elephant was going sideways just playing with him. There are 2 adolescent bulls called Hope and Jungle boy and they also have young teenage mahouts for the same reason. Hope actually has 2 because he is too much work for just 1. He couldn't even go to the toilet without Hope running off and causing trouble.

Those elephants have mostly been at the park which is why they are so full of life, they haven't been begging on Bangkok streets or been fed speed to make them work harder. Many of the older girls have these stories with them. One has a broken back from a breeding programme and is very slow. Not only does she have her mahout to look after she has a very loyal elephant friend who never leaves her side. Another elephant was making fun of her (how and elephant can make fun of another I don't know but that's how the story goes), her friend charged at that elephant trumpeting with her ears flapping and chased her around the park and was so cross she nearly killed her! That's what you call a friend. Another elephant, Jokia, is blind and she also has a loyal buddy. Whenever Jokia can't feel or smell her buddy she lets out a panicked trumpet and her friend trumpets back and comes charging over to reassure her. Elephants adore each other and is it so touching to see.

The mahouts get paid different wages depending on how difficult your elephant is. Hope's mahouts get the most as they are always on the go. I was glad to hear this because if you look after the 82yr old life is very chilled and you can relax. Saying that, it is the 82yr old elephant who has taught one of the younger bulls to fight! So, just like humans, old ladies can't be trusted!

Anyway, I could go on for ages about this experiences as it was one of the best things I have ever done. I think the pictures say it better than I ever could.
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