Elephant Nature Park
As is the case with most people who go to Chiang Mai, we decided we wanted to go and see some elephants while we were there. We had heard some stories about tourist camps who mistreat the elephants, so we decided to do a bit of research to see which would be the best one to go to.
After researching we came across Elephant Nature Park, we decided that it seemed like the best one for us. Their website states that their aim “has always been to provide a sanctuary and a rescue for elephants”. Their office is located in the centre of Chiang Mai. We booked through the central office for 2500 Baht ($71) each. This may seem a little expensive compared to other offers from companies around Chiang Mai, but from what I’m about to explain I’m sure you will understand why it’s worth paying that bit extra.
Our day started with an 8 am pick up from our guest house. On the way to the nature park, we watched a small documentary on how elephants are used and mistreated within the tourist sector in Thailand, for example, elephants roam the street in cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai with their owner, while amazed tourists pay to feed the elephant. The documentary also introduced us to the founder of elephant nature park ‘Lek’, who set up the Nature Park and has done an amazing job so far.
Elephant Stories at Elephant Nature Park
Elephant Nature Park is the home of rescued and retired working elephants, from industries such as logging and tourism training camps. First of all, when we got to the park, we fed the elephants and learnt more about them and their stories.
Each elephant had its own sad story. One elephant we were feeding was blind. She was blinded while working in a logging camp in Burma. Being forced to carry on dragging logs while heavily pregnant, she actually gave birth while dragging a log up a hill, as a result, the baby fell down the hill and did not survive. The elephant then refused work, the loggers would slingshot and poke her in the eyes and face. She turned on the logger after being tortured, so the owner stabbed her in both eyes, blinding her.
We then walked around the park to meet more of the elephants. Another elephant we met had an injured foot which needed to be cleaned each day in order to stop it becoming infected. This elephant also worked in a logging camp and stepped on a landmine in the area on the border between Thailand and Burma. We also then saw the first elephants to actually be born at the nature park, which our guide said they would hope to release into the wild one day.
After a long morning, it was time for our lunch. They put on a huge veggie buffet. I’m not usually a fan of just veggie food, but this was one of the better meals I had at this stage and there was plenty for everyone.
The Truth about the Elephant Tourism Industry
After lunch, we watched another documentary. This documentary was very hard to watch. The main part of the documentary showed us how they train elephants for tourist training camps. The villagers literally torture the elephant into submission and until the elephant cannot and won’t fight back anymore. This is how they train the elephants to be so obedient and so that tourists can ride on the elephant.
We were also enlightened to the fact that ex-working elephants or any working elephants are considered livestock and not an endangered animal (makes no sense, I know), so if someone was to kill one of these elephants, they would only receive a fine and not a prison sentence.
The documentary did also have a lighter side, showing how Lek goes about her daily business while running a huge elephant sanctuary she also goes to local villages acting as a vet for elephants kept there.
Bathing & Washing the Elephants
Next was most people’s part of the day they were looking forward to most, bathing the elephants. Due to the elephants being free to do what they like the guides had to put food down for them beside the river. While we could bath the elephants with buckets and water from the river. This was a good laugh, getting soaked from people on the other side throwing the water over the elephant, but it was good fun, for us and hopefully the elephants too.
Elephant Nature Park’s Message
While we were in the park, the organisation were in the process of a PR campaign. The aim of the campaign was to educate people on the truths of the ivory trade and to support and lend their hand to the ‘Global March for Elephants and Rhinos’. As this was a worldwide campaign, the organisation needed people who could speak languages other than English and Thai to speak out. This was when we met the amazing woman who is Lek. She was coordinating the photos and videos for the campaign on the park that day.
In our group, there was a South Korean family and a Spanish couple. They were asked whether they would say a speech about their campaign in their language to spread the word across the globe. It was great to see the time and effort that Lek and her team are putting in to help the elephants, it’s clear to see how much she cares.
The End of the Day
Apparently, it was mating season when we visited, so the males weren’t that safe to be around. As we were walking back to the main building, there was a young male walking past us with his Mahout (the individual carer of the elephant), he was quite young and a bit reckless and started running about around us. We had to make a quick getaway back to the main building. Although he was a young elephant, I definitely would not want him running into me. Lastly, it was the final feeding of the day, and we got to feed the elephants again, which I don’t think would ever get old, such a great experience.
After an amazing experience feeding, walking with and bathing the elephants and of course learning a lot more about the state of the elephant industry in Asia, we made our way back to our guest house. We arrived back at around 5.30pm. So all in all, I would definitely say it is worth paying the extra bit of money to visit Elephant Nature Park, as it was a great day and you know you are supporting an amazing cause.