I recently had the opportunity to visit the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center in Northern Thailand. Watching a young elephant and his mother freely play in a river was a highlight of the experience. The majestic mammals nudged and splashed each other in the cool water. When the four year old let out a joyful roar, it almost looked as if the mother was smiling as she flapped her ears and nuzzled him. Their home, the Elephant Nature Park, is safe and a long ways from the life they were rescued from.
The Asian Elephant (a.k.a. the Indian Elephant) is an endangered species with a remaining population of 30,000, and 3,000-4,000 of them live in Thailand. Their habitat is threatened by the growth of human settlements and poaching. In addition, the use of elephants for logging, entertainment, and trekking cause health problems and death.
Many elephants undergo malicious “training” to perform in a circus or work in the logging industry. It’s a form of torture that slowly breaks the mammal’s spirit. And the physical effects from wearing a saddle, and having people or heavy materials on their backs is detrimental. At the park, each elephant has a story—some horrific, but there’s also hope due to the efforts of the organization.
The Elephant Nature Park is doing all they can to give elephants the good life they are meant to have. They rescue elephants from trekking operations, logging, entertainment outlets, etc. Medical treatment is available for those that are sick or wounded. They also provide refuge for other species such as dogs, cats, water buffalo and occasionally horses and other animals. This is all done with the help of staff and volunteers from near and far.
Elephants roam free at the park. They eat for 18 hours a day and happily bathe in the sand, mud, and the river. The herd is a family and the people that come to visit are welcomed into it even it’s just for a day.
The staff and volunteers care deeply for each of the elephants and tend to their individual basic and medical needs. Each elephant has a Mahout, the elephant’s keeper. I’m in awe of the bond between a Mahout and an elephant. When a new elephant arrives at the parl, five potential Mahouts are put with her/him and the elephant chooses its companion.
If you’re in Northern Thailand, make time to visit or volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park. I guarantee that once you hear the flapping of an elephant’s ears against its neck, you will experience joy!
by Julie Slagter
A Day with the Elephants