Spending a day with the gentle giants

{ Chiang Mai, Thailand - Feb 2011 }

I didn't expect to fall in love with them. They are huge - I am probably just the size of their leg. They are strong and have always played an important part in the logging business. However, I went with an open mind, but thinking that I'll probably be keeping my distance.

While still at the deck receiving an introduction of the park and safety instructions, a mischievous young one destroyed the fence, and used his trunk to steal some fruits on the deck. Now, I don't usually endorse bad behavior, but it was so endearing that I could not help but smile.

Some form of activities with the elephants are on the list of almost every visitors to the northern city of Thailand, Chiang Mai - be it a ride on the elephant, a show where the mahout showcased the elephants agility by playing football and painting or just admire them behind the fences. After searching the many parks in Chiang Mai, I decided that I would do something different - to go to a park where all they want to do is to provide a sanctuary to the broken, injured and traumatised. Where visitors help the mahout to bath and feed the elephants, not ride them. And so, the visit to the Elephant Nature Park was booked.

The visit started with a walk around the vast area that made up the park. We were introduced to some of the elephants that had found a haven in the park, all thanks to a lady called Lek, who may be small in size, but big in her heart. We had the chance to see her around the park, caring and tending to the elephants.

Most of the elephants have very sad stories, which the mahout shared with us. After the use of the Asian elephants were banned in Thailand, many of the owners found themselves stuck with a huge animal with insatiable diet and no means of earning money from them. Some elephants found themselves right in the heart of cities like Bangkok doing small tricks for some treats. Others were bullied, injured and left to tend for themselves.

We then helped to carry some fruits and vegetables out for the elephants. The store room had so much food to feed the 35 elephants they have in the park. It was then time to feed the elephants! I basically just took half the watermelon which was bigger than the size of my hand, stretched out my arm and the elephant would use his trunk to take the fruits into his mouth, and immediately wanted another one! They all ate so quickly that I did not even have time to rest. It was really an amazing experience to be so near them. We fed the elephants a few more times throughout the visit, and each was better than the previous as I became more accustomed (and less afraid) of their size.

It was then time to bathe the elephants. Off they went into the river and we were given buckets to splash water on the elephants. Well, it would be better if I get to scrub them. Then again, it would have been a waste of time, as right after the elephants got out from the water, they started spraying sand and covering themselves with mud!

It was also quite funny seeing one of the elephant scratching his butt!

We then spent some time roaming around the elevated area (where we could see the elephants from a safe place) and enjoyed some quiet time enjoying the beautiful area. We were also shown a documentary on the park, on some of the elephants that they had rescued.

All in all, I loved my day spent in the Elephant Nature Park. It was an amazing experience being with the elephants up-close, without the fences and gates in the zoo. Now, I should plan more trips where I get to be near the animals in their natural surrounding - maybe a trip to Sandakan for the Orang Utan is next!

::: Footnotes :::

{ Elephant Nature Park } Visit their website http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/ for more information on the amazing work that they do, the story of each of the elephants they have in the park and the details if you wish to visit the park.

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