Chiang Mai Day 2 (16.06.2012). What an amazing day! Today we visited the Elephant Nature Park and spent the day feeding and bathing the elephants. My favourite day up to yet!
The park was set up in the 1990s and provides a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants across Thailand. The founder of the park is an incredible woman named Lek Chailert. It seems she has almost single handedly tried to change the way elephants are treated in Thailand. She will continue to do so. She relies solely on donations mainly from volunteers and visitors.
The park also contain a dog sanctuary housing 300 dogs that were saved from the Chiang Mai floods last year.
Lek seeks to change the way elephants are viewed in Thailand, not as livestock but as endangered animals. The day was both exhilarating - the elephants are so majestic - but was also very sad. We were shown some difficult footage on the treatment of elephants in Thailand and were told the sad story of each elephant. After seeing the street elephants, trekking elephants and advertisements for many elephant shows where brutal training techniques (used to break the spirit of the elephant) are used I fail to understand how anyone can choose to pay to support such torturers. Instead what better than to see these elephants in a natural environment where they are able to be elephants. Sadly it's westerners who are supporting this torture.
The park contains a medical centre.. many of the elephants are blind (their owners shot or stabbed them in the eye when they refused to work), one had a broken leg (she was forced to trek in this state) and one has a broken hip. Specialist veterinary care is provided.
The elephants under her care came mainly from private owners and she has had to negotiate fees to enable them to join her herd. Animal cruelty is not recognised in Thailand. It seems absurd that these brutal owners are paid for the elephant to be saved. Some of the elephants outlived their usefulness to loggers while others became useless to trekking camp owners.
Leks work takes her deep into the jungles of Northern Thailand where, with the help of medical staff, she treats tribal villagers and their families with medical care and, often, donated clothing. Her Jumbo Express programme provides much needed care to elephants in the jungles.
She truly is an inspiring woman - we were lucky enough to meet her. Her care, compassion and commitment to the elephants was very moving. Lek has won international awards (including 'Asian Hero of the year') and has featured on the National Geographic, BBC and Animal Planet.
Please if you go to Thailand and wish to see the Elephants, give your money to a great cause and see the elephants how they should be.