Sunday, 11 May 2014

Thailand post #3: Elephant Nature Park, near Chiang Mai

This is my third post about my recent eight week trip to Thailand with my girlfriend Emily. You can read about our first few days in Thailand, in Bangkok here. You can read about the rest of our time in Chiang Mai, other than at the Elephant Nature Park here

One of the main things we were excited to do in Thailand was see Elephants. They are such huge and impressive animals and I've always wanted to see one in as close to their natural environment as possible. We researched places to see Elephants and didn't want to go anywhere where they allow people to ride them, or cause them any unnecessary harm or distress. Through many recommendations and from our own research, we discovered the Elephant Nature Park, located around 60km from Chiang Mai. 

Feeding Watermelon to an Elephant

The Elephant Nature Park is a rural sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants that have been abused or mistreated for work or tourism. Domesticated elephants are rescued from abusive work and situations, then live as free as they can be on 300 acres of land in the park with food and care provided every day. The Elephant Nature Park offers surroundings that are as close as they can be to the wild, but as they're already domesticated and have been for many years, they need humans on hand to provide food and medical care which the park provides.

There are currently 30 Elephants in the park, with a large number of staff working very hard to look after the Elephants. Each Elephant also has it's own full-time Mahout to supervise it, ensure it is well fed and does not get itself in trouble with other Elephants or with humans on site.

A small herd of Elephants, with an adorable six-month old

The elephants had created their own 'families' and herds within the park, even though none of them are related. The different herds are all so protective of each other, it was really lovely to see. It did however make me a bit sad to find out that there is one Elephant who lives on it's own with no herd! There is one blind Elephant who arrived and was quickly adopted by another herd, with one Elephant in particularly having taken on the role of her guide.

You can view a video below, which is featured on the Elephant Nature Park website:

All of the money charged for entry goes towards maintaining and improving the park and to care for the Elephants. The day is well thought out, with plenty to do and great value for money. We were picked up in a minivan from our guest house at around 10am. We drove for around an hour to get to the park, whilst for the most-part of the journey we watched a long video about the work the park does. To be honest, we would rather have not watched this and just waited until we got to the park to see everything for ourselves! A guide was with us in the minivan and stayed with us all day, telling us about all aspects of the park and about the individual Elephants stories.

Upon arrival, it wasn't long at all until we were feeding the Elephants, which was just completely amazing. They are such incredible animals and it was so impressive seeing what they could do with their long trunks! We were then carefully lead through the Elephant enclosure to the Elephant medical centre, where we met a beautiful Elephant who had been very badly treated by a logging business. She has a big whole in her ear where her keepers had used a big hook to lead her around, which was sad to see. The Elephant Nature Park have now put a huge flower in the hole, so it looked like a big beautiful earring!

Elephant with big earring :)

Next it was human lunchtime, with an absolutely enormous buffet selection to choose from. Probably the best meal I had during my whole eight weeks in Thailand. After lunch, we were invited to watch an educational video in a conference room, but we opted to watch the magnificent Elephants from a viewing platform instead. After everyone else had finished watching the video, we were then carefully lead back into the Elephant enclosure to view lots of Elephants close-up and learn more about them. 

Washing an Elephant, so much fun!

One of the best parts of the day was washing the Elephants in the river. As soon as they got out of the river, the Elephants immediately threw dust over themselves with their trunks, as this acts as natural sun protection. All our hard work for nothing! Finally, before home time, it was time for one last feeding, which was no-less exciting than the first time. We were driven back to Chiang Mai and dropped at our guest house at around 5.30pm. An absolutely amazing day out.

An incredibly cute six-month old baby Elephant being fed pumpkin

Emily and I with an elderly Elephant

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