Home cruelty free For the Love of Elephants: The Elephant Nature Park in Thailand

For the Love of Elephants: The Elephant Nature Park in Thailand

November 30, 2014

South East Asia has a special place in my heart.  The ocean, the food, the culture, the people… I swoon at the thought of speeding along winding coastal roads, through jungles and rice paddies, perched atop a dilapidated scooter as cars, motorbikes, and buses whiz by.

I know I’ll go back to Thailand one of these days, but for now I’ll have to make due with keeping distant memories close at heart.

One of these memories, of which I’m especially fond of {and was ,in part, the impetus in evolving my views on how our society treats animals} is my experience at The Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng Valley, Thailand. Wanderlusts, animal lovers, and good humans alike should add a visit to this place to their list of things to do before their proverbial bucket is kicked.

4158_700533982212_5725070_n-1{a precious elephant family at ENP}

The park was opened by conservationist, activist,  and inspiration Lek Chailert in response to the neglect and cruelty endured by elephants at the hands of humans, many of whom are unaware that any type of abuse is actually taking place.

Obviously, the tourism industry is a crucial component of the Thai economy. Wealthy tourists the world over flock to Thailand to indulge in all the “exotic” sights, sounds, and experiences the country has to offer. Sadly, animal tourism is a booming industry , as most Westerners traveling to Thailand rarely see an elephant in their daily lives, let alone have the opportunity to touch one. Alas, the opportunity to experience elephants are endless:  elephant guided treks, elephant rides, elephants playing soccer, elephants painting pictures, elephants walking crowded city streets performing tricks for spare change are ubiquitous… You get the idea.

Most people who give business to these outfits are blissfully unaware of how terrible this truly is for the individual elephant, and their entire species.  Elephants who are made to work ( I say “made” for a reason – they are forcibly STOLEN from the wild, where they were free, and are resigned to a life of slavery for the sole purpose of entertaining or working for humans)  are often in poor health, recovering or suffering from injuries sustained while working, and suffer mental anguish for many reasons including: cruel training methods (called phajaan), separation from their family and/ or general lack of a cohesive familial unit {of the utmost importance to a thriving elephant}, confinement, lack of mental stimulation.. The list goes on.  Elephants live very, very long lives and can spend DECADES forced into (literally) backbreaking manual labor like tree felling, or carrying loads of tourist on their back through steep jungle passes.. Let’s not forget, elephants are enormous creatures who consume equally enormous quantities of food.  Feeding an elephant will get quite expensive, and coupled with necessary veterinary care , many elephant care takers are ill-equipped to handle the extensive financial costs associated with keeping an elephant.  And so, neglect that is not always overt or intentional, runs rampant.

One can’t blame a person for doing whatever it takes to care for their family; the laws of supply and demand are clearly at play here.  There is demand for tourists who want to interact with elephants, so there are those who will happily oblige if it means they can support their loved ones.

Luckily for elephants there is Lek. Her goal, apart from rescuing and providing a safe haven for these elephants, is to raise awareness about alternatives to the current animal tourism industry. Surely, if people knew the harm they were doing they would not participate, and might instead choose to spend their money elsewhere…  A trek that allowed tourists to spy, from a distance, a herd of elephants playing in the dust, or a mother elephant teaching her calf to use her trunk are much better alternatives… Or, they might choose to do what scores of other tourists, including myself,  are already doing – visit Elephant Nature Park!

Set amongst a vast stretch of misty green hills bisected by a river, the park is home to over thirty elephants ranging in age from wise old-timers to brand new babies. Here the elephants are well cared for and free to live like… well.. Elephants! The park is also home to many rescued dogs, and is involved in a tree-planting initiative to help restore rainforest to the area.

During my visit my heart swelled to nearly one million times its normal size and just about burst with love and veneration for these magnificent beings.  I think I even shed a few tears because I was so overwhelmed by their strength and beauty.  To observe them interacting together is a gift I will cherish forever.  To stand in the river and bathe them was humbling. That we treat these creatures as objects of entertainment and for our amusement or associate them as performers in a circus is both troubling and heartbreaking.

4158_700533992192_1087715_n{Just bathing a baby!}

Many elephants at the park show visible signs of their difficult past. One elephant, in particular, who has since passed, was so disfigured through her work in the lumber industry that it was agonizing to look at her because it was obvious she suffered so much.  But, I was able to take solace in the fact that she was rescued from that misery and was able to live the rest of her life comfortably, bonding with other members of her species, and living as nature always intended.

4158_700533987202_2907738_n-1{visible injuries sustained from many years working}

Over the years, the park has been growing and now has other projects in Myanmar and Cambodia, in addition to another project in Thailand called “The Surin Project.”  The organization is making strides in educating the public about the plight of the Asian Elephant {which I will spare you because I could honestly go on-and-on about it. So, read about it here, if you wish}. The park operates on donations and the money generated through volunteer opportunities. I urge anyone visiting Thailand to make a visit to the park a priority. It will change your life.

eles at nature park{photo: Elephant Nature Park}

At the very least, I beg of anyone vising South East Asia to abstain from supporting any company that uses working elephants. I also implore everyone to boycott wild animal circuses or any fair or event that has elephants (or other wild animals).

And remember, it is never ever okay to ride an elephant!!!

xoxo,

MKC

{featured image photo credit: Elephant Nature Park}

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4 comments

sstreetgreen December 1, 2014 at 2:28 am

I spent 6 weeks in Thailand for school but stayed mostly in the South. I always regret not going to the Northern areas to see the elephants! It looks like you had an awesome experience.

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My Kind Closet December 1, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Well, now you have an excuse to go back!! 😉
It was truly a memorable experience.

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