In December 2009 when we were in Chiang Mai, Bryan suggested visiting the elephants at the local elephant sanctuary Elephant Nature Park. This park is run by its founder, a pint-sized lady with a big heart Lek, and unlike many other elephant camps where elephants are kept to earn a living entertaining tourists or ferrying them around, these elephants are left to roam freely in an open area and taken care of by volunteers.
As a fan of elephants, imagine my excitement at being able to go up close to these gentle giants. I was prepared with my mammoth t-shirt. We booked ourselves on a one day tour of the park, which started bright an early with a mini van that came to pick us up at the hotel. The drive to the park was about an hour long, located in a natural valley bordered by a river.
The park has several programmes for volunteers to participate in. we were there on the shortest tour, there are others that allow you to stay anywhere from 2 to 14 nights as you help out at the park and learn about the elephants. there are a few who stay for months taking care of these elephants on the long term programme.
When we arrived, there were already volunteers from the week long programme who are hard at work preparing food for the elephants, who can eat up to about 250kg of food per day PER ELEPHANT. that’s a shit load of bananas and pumpkins to prepare! the truck reverses itself into what is the food preparation hut and the volunteers form 3 lines and toss the fruit from the truck onto the shelves. Further down, another group of staff pick through the fruit and pack them into individual baskets (shown above). Each basket has a name of an elephant. The park has about 30 elephants to date.
The main compound of the park includes the teaching and living quarters. Here the guide introduces us to the members of the park, which not only include elephants and humans, but also dogs and cats, as Lek doesn’t discriminate who wanders into her nature reserves. she tells us which animals are friendly and which are not, so we know better who to approach or not.
I’m not sure why though. probably don’t want any puking incidences.
Part of the family.
This was the more adventurous of the cats in the compound, who was slinking around us along the beams of the hut. bored, she pounced on the other black cat and they started fighting. flying tufts of hair ensure.
we were put in a common area so that the staff can tell us about the elephant rescue programmes and what they’ve been doing to help these elephants. they also taught us simple elephant behaviours like what to look out for in case an elephant panics and also ran through a list of dos and don’ts while in the park. as punishment, she grabbed the naughtiest cat and used her as demonstration on what to do when an elephant lies down like that (as seen above).
when class was over, we walked out to take a look at the elephants grazing in the sun. ok perhaps grazing isn’t the correct word to use. not sure if elephants nibble on grass.
further away from the main compound is a hut where they treat the elephants with medicine and care.
Here comes the first curious group. Most of the elephants at the park are old elephants who worked at logging camps all their lives until the government abolished logging. This left many elephants homeless and unwanted. While some of the elephants are released into the wild, most of them continue working at elephant camps as performers in animal shows. I had been to one of those as a kid. The staff got me to stand in the centre of the tent as an elephant curled his trunk around my body and lifted me up, much to the delight of the crowd while I was screaming the house down, not because he was rough, the elephant was very gentle. I was just chicken shit at that age. Thinking about it now, I feel slightly guilty as having participated in one of those shows where they exploited these poor elephants.
This is Part 1 of 5. To donate it’s only US$10 for one lunch or US$25 for a medical kit. or US$75 a year to sponsor an elephant