Walking With Elephants

When we first started discussing Thailand I had a dream of petting tigers. I had read about Tiger Temple and imagine it this perfect place where monks really did exist harmoniously with tigers. I was beyond stolked. Then I started doing research and learned the really unsurprising (when you actually think about it) truth that to pet full grown tigers they have to be drugged or chained. I couldn’t bring myself to visit any of the Thailand tiger attractions as a result (A. was relieved since he believes you shouldn’t do anything that if you were to be hurt or die people would be like ‘duh’). However, I wasn’t leaving Thailand without some significant animal interaction.

So I started researching elephants and found a rescue center that we could visit and stay overnight, The Elephant Nature Park. We went on our 4th day in Thailand. It was hella hot (100°+), but the experience was amazing.

They rescue elephants from street begging, circuses, trekking camps (tourist rides), and logging camps in Burma. Each elephant needs to be purchased from their owners so despite the abuse the park needs to maintain positive relationships with the groups that own them or risk being shut out. Apparently every elephant you meet in Thailand that didn’t have the rare fortune of being born at the park or rescued at a young age was ‘broken’ through at least 3 days of torture in a tiny enclosure, we watched some video and it’s ugly stuff.

The park was pretty amazing. They have 38 elephants ranging from little babies to old ladies. Some are healthy and doing well, but most have some sort of trauma that may or may not be visible. The saddest was one very gentle girl who had a badly healed broken leg and hips from separate injury occasions. There were also several with broken backs from carrying tourists, apparently not a healthy activity for them.

While we were there we got to hand feed them, pet them, and was them over the two days we were there. They were absolutely amazing animals, especially looking at how they care for each other. They have several blind one from mistreatment and cataracts, and each has at least one “seeing elephant” that had bonded with them and stays with them always. Each elephant was with their Mahoot (a person responsible for them at all times) and no restraints or discipline tools. The gentle/friendly ones we got to interact with up close while they were loose, the less friendly or ones with babies we observed from a little distance. It was cool to b able to have so much interaction while not imposing on the animal’s needs.

The park also rescue dogs and cats and I finally got to pet some (A. calls them “fuzzy deaths”) because they rabies vaccinate. It was much needed since everyone has cats and dogs here. There were around 200 dogs there, most in the dog rescue kennel, but probably around 40 free range.

Overall it was amazing to spend time and learn about such beautiful animals. It was inspiring to hear about all of the park’s efforts to try and change something so ingrained in Thailand’s culture.

Look forward to lots of elephant photos when I have a real computer in a month or so.

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