20 Apr Elephant Encounters & Sanctuary Stay
While I had encountered elephants in my journey, it hadn’t been the greatest environment or situation. Lakshmi was a gorgeous majestic creature and the first one I came in contact with at an elephant temple in Hampi. Lakshmi was chained to a post and had been trained to bless people for a rupee coin . She did this after giving the coin to a man slouched over in a chair then placing her trunk on your forehead. A queue of Indians would form to receive this bullshit blessing. What I thought to be a cheap parlour trick was all that was left to this magnificent creature.The most recent encounters were in Chitwan, Nepal. My eyes got big when I saw them casually strolling down the street. It would have been more casual had they not been being ridden, the riders heels aggressively being dug into the back of their gorgeous massive ears while the man atop his head was yelling at the poor creature in harsh tones. The next time I was excited, we had been riding our bikes through the National Park in Chitwan and I thought I had stumbled upon an elephant utopia. Upon closer inspection all the elephants were chained to trees. One of the keepers of the elephant (I would later find out them to be called Mahoot, keeper of the elephant) invited us to sit down. I kindly declined as I couldn’t bear to see a mother and baby elephant chained to trees. So close to each other but so far apart. Nor could I comprehend how their keepers found their captivity to be a positive thing. The keeper would scream at the elephant and once acted like he was going to hit her with large bamboo stick. As tears well up in my little eyes I had to walk away and sit down away from this madness.
As part of our travels around Thailand my parents had arranged for us to stay at an elephant sanctuary in Chang Mai. The shuttle that took us to the camp played a video giving us background, guidelines and what to expect. The gentle giants, while revered in Thailand (and Asia), are not free from abuse. Wild baby elephants are captured and taken away from their mothers (who are often killed) and forced to undergo a torturous training to domesticate them. This practice essentially breaks the spirit of the elephant, using fear of pain to train them to accept riders on their backs, perform tricks and paint.
Elephant Nature Park (ENP) provides 250 acres of beautiful jungle as sanctuary for these creatures broken by tourism and the illegal logging industry. The Nature Park is home to more than 35 elephants and is also a sanctuary for more than 350 dogs rescued from the destructive Bangkok floods of 2011 and from the streets of Chiang Mai.
ENP provides a wonderful space not only for the many animals but for visitors to learn and interact.
Playing with Pachyderms!!
A dream come true.
While at the ENP I got to feed the elephants fresh fruit right from my hand, meet and roam with the herd, watch them play in the dirt, rain & mud, and get into the river to give them a bath. At night we could watch them from our room and you would hear the elephants whisper, rumble, snore and even their mighty trumpet. As if I weren’t in awe of the majestic creatures already my time at ENP gave me a greater appreciation for how intelligent and social they really are.
Interacting with the elephants in their natural surroundings was absolutely amazing and one of the highlights of my time in Thailand. Please think twice before riding an elephant and if you get the chance check out www.saveelephant.org.