Day 11 – Chiang Mai – Saturday March 12th 2011
Today we booked a day at Elephant Nature Park. We wanted to repay our debts to the abused Thai elephants after witnessing their poor treatment first hand. We wanted to help and see the work that is being done to put things right.
We were collected early from our guesthouse and driven North. During the journey to Elephant Nature Park we were shown a DVD to explain the about the foundation, and about their founder Lek. Since logging was banned in Thailand there are redundant elephants that can be costly for their owners to keep. One way they make ends meet is by using the elephants for tourism. The badly treated elephants are rescued and taken care of at the park.
We arrived at the immaculate camp which had a massive barn full of fruit to feed the huge beasts. The elephants are allowed to roam free on the land without chains, and are followed by their individual mahouts (trainers). The park is against any sticks or hooks as discipline, instead preferring to use food as a training tool. Even the troublesome elephants are not chained up, instead they tie a bell round its neck, so everyone knows when trouble is coming.
This is true of a couple of the younger male elephants, which came to the park without first being domesticated (I think one of them may have been born at the park). They are much more of a challenge to train, but eventually the park aims to release elephants into the wild anyway. It would not be possible at the moment, as the elephants would be taken back into the tourism trade, due to weak laws, and the value of the elephants.
One of the elephants at the park could hardly walk as it had been chained up and used for breeding. It had broken hips and needed constant veterinary care.
Another elephant had a piece of its leg missing after a landline accident near the Burmese border. It happened over ten years ago, but still requires constant medical attention.
Feed the elephants.
We were able to feed the elephants from a raised platform, and then wash them down with buckets of water in the river.
After a massive buffet lunch we signed a petition against the use of elephants begging on the streets. The foundation does support people that use their previously domesticated elephants for tourism, but wants to make sure their welfare is being looked after, and that more elephants are not being brutally broken in to use to make money.
Elephant Nature Park was a fantastic place, and it is great to see a Thai woman making a stand against the poor treatment of these elephants. Lek has dedicated her life to helping these elephants and it clearly shows in the park.
Today we received panicked messages from our families after seeing news of the awful earthquake in Japan. We have been totally unaffected by it, but will need to keep an eye the situation for our next flights.