Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Northern Thailand
A place where ill treated elephants can live out their days in comfort and natural surroundings.
Whilst recently travelling through Thailand my wife and I wanted to see these beautiful creatures up close and personal but coming from a vetinary background neither of us wanted to join the masses that pay to ride one of these placid yet powerful creatures.
That was when we stumbled across the Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand. More of a retirement home for mistreated elephants this sanctuary gives these creatures the chance to live a peaceful and enjoyable life in their natural surroundings.
Unfortunately, tourism in Thailand is extremely big business and elephant rides for visitors are a huge attraction. The elephants have to be trained in order to allow tourists to be carried on extremely heavy iron saddles on their backs. This training can involve torture and heart breaking regimes which leave the elephants scared of their owners (and humans as a whole) in order for them to follow instructions.
Many elephants have life changing injuries as a result of these regimes, some even end up with broken backs due to years of carrying this heavy weight through forest trails for the enjoyment of tourists. It is a very sad thing to see but happening regularly due to supply and demand.
When these elephants get injured and are no longer of any use to these traders they are sold off and in some cases left to die due to the expense of vetinary care needed to treat them. That is when the Elephant sanctuary steps in. They acquire these elephants and give them a sort of retirement home to live out their days in peace, still with human interaction but on a completely different level.
What was included in our one day volunteering package?
We opted for the one day volunteering package which if you can afford it, is worth every penny.
We were picked up from our hotel at approximately 07:00 and driven (via a high specification coach) to the Elephant sanctuary. During the drive we were given an extremely informative talk by our guide and shown a short (but very powerful) video of how these wonderful animals came to live at the sanctuary. I will warn you now that this video is not for the faint hearted, it depicts the true background of what these animals have had to endure and very clearly shows how they are driven to breaking point before performing tricks and becoming docile enough to carry passengers.
It really makes you feel for the elephants and leaves you disgusted with the ways they have been treated and in turn what tourists paying for these elephant rides are actually encouraging. If everyone watched these videos I doubt the desire to ride an elephant would still exist.
After this rather upsetting start to the day, you arrive at the sanctuary where you are given a short health and safety briefing (these animals are extremely powerful and as a result can be very dangerous if not treated correctly).
Now the fun and enjoyment starts. We had a group of 10 including myself and partner and were each given a bag of sugar cane, corn on the cob and other vegetables. Each couple are assigned an elephant and you spend at least two hours walking side by side with these magnificent giants feeding them and patting them. There really is no other way to get this close to elephants and you truly form a bond with your assigned new friend. Walking through the foothills of Northern Thailand we reached a shallow but wide river where we stopped for a freshly cooked buffet style lunch.
The afternoon is then spent in the river where you can admire and wash these huge yet incredibly gentle beasts. Pictures are encouraged and you can do as little or as much as you like with the elephants, a truly unforgettable experience!
Hopefully some of my pictures will show you just how close you can become in such a short space of time with the elephants.
To end the day we visited some of the less fortunate residents of the sanctuary (one elephant was recovering from stepping on a landmine left behind from previous wars and another had permanent back damage from being used to ferry tourists up an down mountains for over 10 years!). The whole experience was very humbling but I would much rather enjoy these creatures in their own surroundings knowing that my money was going towards their care and happiness and not just in the pocket of some money grabbing slave driver.