Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Elephant Nature Park

After Pai we went back to Chiang Mai for three more days of relaxing and visiting the Elephant Nature Park. It was a bit expensive to spend the day here, but the money was well worth it. 100% of our money goes towards the benefit of the elephants.

The Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for endangered Asian elephants who were previously abused or neglected as domestic elephants. There are really no laws or regulations for elephants in Thailand. Owners can work elephants for long periods of time during the day for logging, transportation, trekking, and elephant street begging purposes.
We arrived at the park around 9 am and met several volunteers and staff who taught us a little more about the elephants and why the foundation is important to them. I was a little disappointed because the founder, Lek, was not there that day. She was at the Thai/Burma border looking at elephants to take back to the sanctuary. Lek has been in several documentaries about the work she has done for elephants. She was actually born into one of the hill-tribes in Northern Thailand and can influence the thinking of many of the Thai people in the hill tribes that have a long tradition of  initially abusing the animals during the process of “domestication.” We watched a documentary about this and it was incredibly hard to watch. Basically, they put the elephants in a small looking cage and are continuously abused by several people from the tribes until they start obeying the owners commands. Elephants are incredibly intelligent creatures and can feel emotion. At the end of the domestication process, the elephant was crying and had  wounds everywhere. Many people in the world have not seen this process, but it was all filmed in one of the documentaries. I had to look down a couple of times as it was hard seeing these intelligent and kind animals treated in this way.
If you visit www.elephantnaturefoundation.org and www.elephantnaturepark.org you can learn a little more about the elephants living at the santurary and how they got there. You can also understand what Lek and other volunteers are doing on a daily basis to try and change the way these elephants are treated in Thailand.
Basically, we spent the day feeding the elephants buckets of bananas (they eat 1/10 of their body weight), playing with them in the water and helping bathe them (basically pouring buckets of water and scrubbing them), and observing them during the day (including playing in the mud with the other elephants.) It was an unforgettable experience.
It was nice to see these massive and intelligent mammels living in their natural habitat free from chains and working. Basically, they are at this sanctuary to recover from abuse and live the rest of their life in peace.
I will never forget this experience.
See you all soon,

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