View from the hill!

View from the hill!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Elephant Naure Park

Elephants are everywhere in Thailand; statues of this masive creature fill temples and palaces, elephant necklaces are sold on the street as a symbol of good luck and wisdom and highway billboards use elephants to advertise sales. The Asian Elephant has been a cultural icon of Thailand since the ancient days. However, elephants also seem to lie at the heart of one of the biggest contradictions in the world. While they are highly worshipped and immensely well thought of, they are also tortured and abused. Amidst the elephant rides, elephant shows where elephants play soccer and paint lovely pictures and even elephants begging on the busy city streets lies a true elephant sanctuary- The Elephant Nature Park (

A visit to this elephant sanctuary was highly recommended (thank you Meredith!) and I am truly thankful that I got to spend the day in the park. Before hearing about the park I would have most likely done the traditional elephant trek that so many tourists do. I thought it sounded cool: hiking, elephant riding, river rafting and even helping to bath the elephants. When you think about the sheer size of an elephant it seems like it would be no problem to sit on their back for a couple of hours as they take you for a ride through the hills of Thailand. I had even heard that elephants liked to work, so for all I knew they really enjoyed their "job." However, what most do not know is the torture and abuse that every one of these performing and working elephants must endure.

Every domesticated elephant in Thailand goes through the same torturous process so that they will obey their mahouts instruction and be able to be in such close and constant human contact. The ancient tradition called the pha-jaan has been used for decades to "break" the elephants and make them obedient. Basically the young elephants are put in a small cage and for weeks they are starved, sleep deprived and tortured using sticks with nails on the ends. They are constantly beaten and poked. Elephants are very senstive creatures, both physically and emotionally, and they are also very social creatures often staying with their family their entire life and mourning when a family member dies, so the separation expereinced during the pha-jaan cerimony is extremly devestating for them.

Lek, the founder of the Elephant Nature Park believes in providing a home to these endangered animals as well as contributing to their welfare and development. Currently the park has 35 elephants ranging in age from 2-80 and all of whom are either disabled, orphans, blind and/or rescued. The park is run soley off of contributions and volunteers and it costs about $300,000 a year to run. On any given day there are 50 vounteers there, they stay for either one or two weeks and help to prepare the elephants food, clean the park, help with the medical needs of the elephants and various other tasks as needed. I went for a one day visit. I got to meet each of the 35 elephants, helped with the morning and afternoon feedings, bathed the elephants in the river and watched a documentary on the park and the condition of the Asian elephant throughout Thailand. Hearing the stories of these elephants was truly life changing and I would strongly recommend anyone coming to Thailand in the near future to make a visit to the park. For now, you can read about some of the elphants stories here: (my favorite is Jokia who I had the pleasure of feeding!).

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