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During my last week in Thailand, I visited the Elephant Nature Park by Save Elephant Foundation which is located in Chiang Mai. It was a day of awareness as I learned about the plight of these gentle giants and how Lek, the founder of Save Elephant Foundation, is pushing the cause to stop the abuse of these animals. 

Elephant Nature Park Day Trip by Save Elephant Foundation
Chiang Mai, Thailand
October 24, 2012

bathing elephants park
Save Elephant Foundation in Elephant Nature Park, Thailand

chiang mai elephant park
Chiang Mai, Thailand

A Day at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I went to the assembly point where I rode a van going to the park. The ride took about an hour to get to the location as we were still picking up my other companions in their hotels. While heading to the park, they played a documentary about elephants. It was a good introduction to make us aware of what we’re going expect during the day.

van to elephant park
introduction video

We arrived at the elephant park and I could already  see the elephants walking freely with their mahouts (caretakers) with them. There’s an area where we could feed them with watermelons, squash, and bananas. These elephants would take either from the guests who would hand out these fruits and vegetables.

feeding elephants
feeding the elephants

After feeding them, our guide introduced us to some of the elephants roaming around. Stories were also shared about how these elephants were brought to the park as well as their background prior to their rescue.

elephant introduction
our guide, introducing an elephant

Lunch

Lunch time came and we gathered for a buffet with vegetarian food as our menu. I was able to talk to Diana (PR Manager) and she narrated her story on how she became involved in the park. She fell in love with these elephants that she left her old job in her hometown and asked Lek to take her in. What a visit can make you do, eh? I also got to meet a few volunteers who shared their experiences while staying there for days.

elephant whisperer
Lek, the elephant whisperer

At Elephant Nature Park, there are no shows, no rides, no painting. The interaction the people get when they visit or volunteer is feeding, bathing and watching these animals.

Elephant Abuse

After lunch, we proceeded to a function room. They showed a film about how elephants are tortured and abused to train them how to paint and obey orders. It was torture to watch how they are being caged and beaten.

In Thailand, elephants who are put into the tourist industry are trained by phajaan. This is when the baby is taken from the mother and its spirit is broken (also known as the “crush”.) For days, the elephant is horribly beaten in order to learn commands. When they are done with the crush, they are essentially domesticated.

elephant torture video
elephants training

Some folks couldn’t stand watching the film that they stepped out of the room. I watched it and it was painful in parts. Imagine a stick with a nail attached. The trainers uses the stick and strikes the elephant with it just so they will learn to obey orders.

This is a tradition that Lek is fighting for. There is no need to use violence to tame these animals. She has proven that with love and affection, these animals can also live in harmony with humans.

elephant abuse rescue
elephants rescued from abuse
elephant on right is Jokia, who was blinded by a previous owner with a bow & arrow

A sample video of the traditional elephant training can be found on this link here: Elephant Training Abuse Video – YouTube

It was good awareness for us to know how these animals are treated. That’s why when it was time to get wet to bathe them, I had a better understanding about what they had experienced.

Bathing the Elephants

We headed to the river where a few elephants were already waiting for us. We took tubs, sponges and stones and started scrubbing the elephant’s skin from dirt. We splashed them with water and also got wet in the process.

elephant bath in park
bathing the elephants

Getting Dirty Again

It was but a quick bath and lasted around 20 minutes; however, it was useless because these elephants will jump into the mud to cover themselves with dirt. As what we learned, the elephants use the dirt to protect their body, sort of a sunscreen.

elephant dirty
These elephants love the mud!

elephants in chiang mai
getting dirty after bathing

Funny how it felt like these elephants were more excited getting out of the water to get themselves dirty as opposed to us bathing them.

The last part was the family portrait where they call out a herd of elephants. It was great to see these creatures together. These elephants roam free during the day, and have formed friendships with other elephants. Elephants form deep and caring relationships. They love, they grieve, they get jealous. A visit to the park lets people see this.

elephant in chiang mai
submerging in the water

chiang mai elephant
family portrait

Safety Rules in the Elephant Nature Park:

  • Always listen to your guide.
  • Never get in between two elephants.
  • Stay close to your guide.
  • Never put your hand in the elephant’s mouth.
  • Don’t stand in front of any elephant.
  • Do NOT tease the elephants.
  • Don’t turn your back to the elephants.
  • Don’t use FLASH photography around the elephants.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings.

-Taken from the ENP site.

elephant and mahout
an elephant and his mahout (caretaker)

scratching elephant
scratching elephant

Growing Park Not Only for Elephants

Aside from more than 30 elephants, the park is filled with 250 dogs, water buffalo, cows, horses, cats, and a pig. The dogs were also rescued from the flood that happened in Bangkok recently. These dogs didn’t have any homes and the park has been a haven for them who are in need of care.

thailand rescued dogs
newspaper clip of dogs in Bangkok that were rescued from the flood

The family of animals are constantly growing.

It was nice to have this experience with these elephants up close. If only I had more time, I would’ve stayed longer. I wanted to try their volunteer program for a week where I could help out in the park’s maintenance. It would also be great to have time outside the normal hours and see how these elephants behave even after daily operations.

elephant mahout
elephants with their respective mahouts

elephant nature park volunteer
volunteers in the park

Even so, I’m still glad to have had the chance to be with these creatures and know the cause that Lek and the team are fighting for.

Save Elephant Foundation
Day Trip Cost: 2500 Baht

soloflighted chiang mai
Philippines represent

Thank you to Lek and Adam, and Diana for this wonderful experience!

———————
Save Elephant Foundation is a Thai non–profit organization dedicated to providing care and assistance to Thailand’s captive elephant population through a multifaceted approach involving local community outreach, rescue and rehabilitation programs, and educational ecotourism operations.

Lek runs other projects as well. For more details on the other programs, which all encourage responsible tourism, community education and more, please check out these pages for more information:

Website: saveelephant.org
Facebook: facebook.com/SaveElephantFoundation
Twitter: @save_elephant


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soloflightEd.com is a travel blog by Edcel Suyo. He enjoys performing headstands and crazy stunts during his trips in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. Now based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and working to earn a living, he takes time to enjoy the city and travel during weekends.
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For questions, advertising, and other concerns, shoot an email to ed@soloflighted.com.


7 comments… add one
  • ohhh.. what a great experience.

  • Thank you so much for sharing and for your support of Save Elephant Foundation and Elephant Nature Park!

  • @mountains&beyond: you should try it when you get to chiang mai! 🙂

    @Save Elephant Foundation: You're welcome! Thank you again for the wonderful experience! 🙂

  • AJ

    Wow, this is one place to see elephants without the abuse. Washing them look more fun (and sexier, hehe) than riding or painting them. Did you meet Mosha? She inspired the Elephant Parade show that goes around the world (caught it in Singapore 2 years ago).

  • @AJ: I remember your mother Liking that photo on FB because of the elephants. 🙂 Didn’t meet Mosha though. But definitely a great way to interact with these creatures! Learned a lot during this trip. – Tagal ko nang di nakapagblog hop sa site mo.

  • Kat

    I’ve already included this in my itinerary when I go to Chiang Mai next year. 😀

    • Hope you have a swell time here! Great place and very good way to raise awareness 🙂

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