My sister and I were adamant about spending a day with elephants while we were in Chiangmai. It was non-negotiable and we were determined to meet these gentle giants. Choosing where to do it, however, was the most important thing. There are plenty of elephant camps in Chiangmai, but among them, Elephant Nature Park is the only sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. Rather than giving shows, fancy gimmicks and elephant rides that are usually painful and harmful to elephants, they focus on healing, rehabilitation and conservation.
The Elephant Nature Park was founded by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert. She rescues distressed elephants throughout Thailand that include disabled, orphaned, blind, and tortured elephants of all ages. These elephants have gone through so much! Forced to work for street begging, logging, tourism and more, they’re usually abused and malnourished. I actually watched a video about it while I was in the camp. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how these elephants were trained. Their mahouts or owners would torture them by hitting their legs, poking their eyes and tying them to cages for days without feeding them so that they learn to be submissive. Lek either takes them in from owners who give them up voluntarily or buys them so that she can provide these elephants with better care. As expected, most of these elephants arrive with great mental issues aside from their physical wounds, so Lek allows them to heal and live naturally in their self-chosen family groups. She’d build a relationship with them by showering them with love and positive reinforcement. This is how she trains the elephants and this is why we chose to spend our day at her park.
It was beautiful seeing these elephants in their natural element. I got to feed them, bathe them (they bathed me too. LOL), and touch them. It was an experience like no other. One that is most rewarding and has given me great insight as to how elephants are. They are a fiercely loyal and caring bunch. And this is just one of the many reasons why I’ve fallen head over heels in love with them. (I can’t even count how many times I said “awww” whenever a baby elephant walked past me.) The day was already over and I was still on a high from meeting them! It’s definitely the kind of high no elephant show or ride could ever give. Best trip ever!