In February, 2018, I spent a remarkable day at the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. I was immensely impressed with the facility, its mission and the many volunteers. Our personal guide, Nick, was exceptional and ensured our day was one we’d never forget.
We opted for the semi-private day tour called Care for Elephants. There were only four of us so it felt like a very personal experience. We started the day by preparing some treats and feeding the elephants. When you have food in your hand, you are their very best friend! The smiles on my face are about as big as they get!
Enjoy some images of these beautiful girls!
We started our trek with them by walking along the river. We kept bananas in our bag so they didn’t let us get too far ahead!
These two ladies loved Bo! Two at once bombarding him with some love!
Sorry girls! NO MORE NANAS!
They love to throw dirt on themselves. It keeps them cool and keeps the bugs away!
Stopping to grab some bananas off the tree.
The bristles on their tales are unique. No two are quite the same so it works as an identifier too.
We reached the top where we are stopping for lunch and a rest. Great views of the park too!
The ladies are foraging a bit…
Ready to hike back down for bath time.
This gal found a great rock upon which to scratch her rear end!!
Bath time: And we got to put on our stylish ‘get wet’ outfits!
And, next over the the base camp of the Elephant Nature Park…
This old lady is remarkable… it was our honor to meet her!
“Mae Jan Peng, the elephant with a flower in her ear… Like many elephants, Mae Jan Peng has a hole in her ear due to her past life of exploitation. Knowing that this hole should now never be used for the purpose it was intended, e.g. a mahout putting a bull hook or finger through the hole in order to control Mae Jan Peng, her mahout Patee has turned a negative into a positive. By placing a flower into this hole, Patee offers Mae Jan Peng a splash of colour and beauty. Just a little labor of love… Although Mae Jan Peng may not even notice, the message is clear to those who meet her and her best friend Patee.”
The Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center. It is not their goal to breed elephants or even to release them back into the wild. That is not an option for these elephants because most of them were born into captivity and could not survive in the limited wild areas in Thailand where elephants roam free. These elephants were owned and used for profit, mostly for the following: logging, trekking or some kind of circus act/entertainment in the cities. All were abused at some level as elephants are not meant for any of these purposes. It is complicated to rescue these animals because for many locals, it is their way of life and their sole income. So the park also has the mission to help these local individuals and families find other ways to survive. In addition they have hired the mahouts (elephant ‘trainers’) to take care of the elephants in a compassionate way at the park so they are also employed gainfully. Their work too is amazing.
Below are some photos of elephants as they came into the facility and the excellent medical care they are provided. Some of the elephants I met had been injured in the following ways: stepping on land mines from earlier wars, being injured during logging accidents, chained up for so long they couldn’t walk or being hit by cars in the cities… extremely sad.
This girl’s leg will be forever disabled but she is now taken care of and healthy!
Here is one under current care for an injured leg.
And, on a happier note, here the rescued elephants are enjoying their new home. Notice there are several youngsters. While the park does not breed elephants, some come in pregnant and of course their babies are welcomed. Elephants have such a long gestation period that it is very difficult (and takes a long time) to find out they are pregnant.
Love this lady! She likes to stand over the sprinkler and fill her trunk with water! Happy!
The Elephant Nature Park also recognizes the need for care and rehabilitation of many species. They provide a sanctuary for many locals…
And, on the subject of dogs, unfortunately they are also the subject of intense abuse. The ENP works tirelessly to rescue dogs from natural disaster, puppy mills, abuse and the abhorrent food trade.
They have a map posted in the entry of the many great families who have adopted their dogs!
As you can see, dogs are welcome…
And, finally, wondering about the differences between Asian and African elephants as I was? I found this poster!
And, baby elephants? ~I saw this poster on the wall as well. Funny thing, I noticed this came from the Hogle Zoo! That’s my local zoo and where I spent many hours as a child. Glad they are working to help these gentle giants too.
If you’re in northern Thailand, consider a visit to the ENP or the many other sanctuaries. It’s worth it. A final thank you to Sangduen Lek Challert for devoting her life to creating a better world for elephants in Thailand, and elsewhere. “The ENP is the result of her inspiring vision. Lek is from a little known hill tribe called the Khamu. She has been fighting for the rights of the Asian elephant for decades. Lek has received several awards including the Hero of the Planet by the Ford Foundation and the Hero of Asia by Time Magazine. Here work has been featured in National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the BBC and much more.
Thank you, Lek.