When planning our trip to Thailand, there was one thing that was consistently on the top of my list of activities I wanted to do. See elephants. How could we resist when we were in one of the few countries in the world that they are native to? It wasn't so much a question as to if we would do it, but where we would do it. There are elephant camps and parks in every brochure stand around Thailand, especially in Chiang Mai. I had researched several and admit that I was more than a little picky about where we went. I know everyone has different personal opinions but for me personally, I just couldn't bear the thought of going and seeing elephants in 'shows', seeing them paint, watching them play soccer or riding them with large harnesses on their backs. I wanted to experience them more naturally and give my money to a place that cared for the elephants and helped rescue them from harsh environments.
|The one baby on the property loved to give kisses.|
We arrived to the park at an excruciatingly early hour of 6am. We were told that with most animal visits, to go early in the morning when they were first waking up and had not been around people all day yet. After driving for about an hour through the country side, we rounded the corner into the property and were immediately greeted with the site of about a dozen elephants.
You may be wondering about the chain around their feet; that was my first thought too. Every elephant sanctuary has to chain up their elephants for people's protection and their own. This particular company takes in any abused elephant that they find. Meaning, some are very aggressive from being abused and living in extreme conditions. They need time to become docile once again, and for the company to work with them in hopes of a full recovery before people can be near them. This is also to protect the elephants. If they go unchained, they can leave the sanctuary which raises the risk of someone taking them back into harsh conditions or worse, the elephants can plumage local gardens and farms. If this happens, the farmers will often shoot the elephants.
After the feeding was finished and all the buckets lay bare, it was time to train. Since there were no harnesses on their backs, we would ride them through the jungle bareback. We were taught in Thai, how to tell the elephants, to go, stop, turn and lay down in order for us to mount their backs.
Go: non long
Lay down: pai
|Feeding him some sugar cane|
After we felt confident of the commands, we set off for an hour trek through the jungle. Not only is this for our benefit but also the elephants. The mahout (an elephant trainer that lives with the elephants. Each one has only one elephant to care and look after) determines how much exercise their elephant needs and will continue to take them on this route until the elephant is satisfied and well exercised. Therefore, all the elephants are used in cycles and some more than others depending on their individual needs.
We were paired up with an older elephant by the name of Don Coon. You could tell he knew the trail well since his mahout wasn't even guiding him. But instead of sticking strictly to the trail, he would slowly veer off every once in awhile in search of a snack. Who could blame him?
|The back is not as comfortable as it looks! I was sore for days after this!|
The last part of the day was probably my favorite. After the hike, we led our elephants to a large pool of water and were given a scrub brush and bucket. We proceeded to wash all of our elephants while they relaxed and played in the water.
If you're ever in Thailand, I would highly recommend spending a day with the elephants at one of the many Elephant Sanctuaries.
Some other great places to spend time are Patara Elephant Farm and the Elephant Nature Park. When we go back to Thailand (because let's face it, we will go back) we want to check out the Elephant Nature Park which is more intensive on their care and conservation of the animals.
If you want more information about elephant conservation and preservation you can look into the Asian Elephant Aid Foundation and also the Elephant Parade Company.
Linking up with Molly, Meg, Leann, Brooke, Logan, Carissa