Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai
Who doesn’t like elephants, come on. Everybody has a relationship to elephants whether it’s a zoo experience, safari or just watching them on the Discovery channel. Elephants are the biggest mammals that walk the earth today and have always struck awe in us humans. Elephants and the history of Thailand is as intertwined as Europe and its colonies. In the same way that the colonies provided Europe with the wealth and resources to grow to it’s current power the elephants did the same thing for Thailand. In times of war they were the tanks crashing through the enemies defenses. In times of peace the were the creators, pulling down big forrests with their mahouts (keeper of the elephants) providing the means for Thailand to trade, build and in the end reign supreme, as the only country in south east asia not to be colonized by a foreign power. If you have ever been to Thailand you will without a doubt have noticed the impact that the elephants have had on the country, from small wooden figures at the market to enormous marble statues at the temples, the elephants are everywhere. Now where am I going with this? The fact of the matter is that the elephant population of Thailand is in a state of crisis, causing the elephant population to plummet from a staggering 100 000 elephants at the turn of the century, to a measly 2500 alive today. While fat western tourists weigh down the backs of elephants around tourist parks all around the country, the fate of the elephants in Thailand is more than unsure, it’s catastrophical.
There is still hope as parks like the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai sets a shining example of how your can turn a catastrophe into an elephant friendly business model, aiming at increasing the dwindling population of wild elephants in Thailand. The Elephant Nature Park was created by a thai woman called Lek back in the 90’s after she grew tired of watching the elephants dissapearing.She started out with 4 elephants that she bought from local logging companies, and found a piece of land that the elephants could live on. This patch of land is now known as Elephant Haven and it’s a separate part of the Nature Park. This part is used to slowly release the elephants into the wild after being taken care of in other parts of the park. The park has grown due to tourism and generous contributions from animal lovers all around the world. The park now have over 20 elephants roaming free complete with a river to bathe in.
The biggest reason that the elephant population has dwindled so much is due to the ban on logging. After a huge landslide killed hundreds of people and destroyed a lot of the area around Surat Thani in southern Thailand, the government understood that their agressive logging had led them to the brink of destroying their country. The earth was erroding all around Thailand and something had to be done. The goverment did something unheard of and issued a landwide ban on logging, effectively stopping all the logging at once. This caused a lot of people to lose their jobs, but most of all it made thousands of elephants used in the logging industry obsolete. Since the mahouts who owned the elephants lost their jobs, they could no longer take care of their animals and were left with two choices: leave the elephants to an unknown destiny, or turn to he growing tourism industry. It’s hard to say what’s worst for the elephants, the hard work in the logging industry or the inhumane working conditions of the tourism industry.
The reason I’m writing this is to let people who want to see elephants in Thailand know that there is a place that you can go to without harming the animals. The other reason is to let people know whats right and what’t not when it comes to elephants.
First rule: Don’t ever feed the elephants walking around in the cities. The elephants are not meant to live in cities. They use their large feet as sensory devices to pick up vibrations and the constant rumble of the big cities stress them out big time. As long as you keep feeding the elephants in the cities their keeper will earn their cash and take them out the very next day. Being a tourist means you have the possibility and the responsibility to change things for the better, use your money wisely.
Second rule: Don’t go to elephant shows.. Elephants weren’t meant to entertain us with painting, dancing or anything like that.
Third rule: If you have to go on a elephant safari make sure you do your research in advance. An elephant isn’t supposed to carry more than around 100kg for more than an hour per day. This is without the seats.. Make sure that the animals are well treated and healthy, if not then refuse to go!
Alright, enough with the lecturing. Back to the Elephant Nature Park! It’s a really awesome place, although a bit pricey it does make sure that your money goes to a good cause. A full day at the park is 2500 baht per person which includes transportation, lunch and a whole lot of interraction with the animals. You get to participate in feeding and bathing of the big animals which is great fun. There are two separate feeding and bathing times each day. The only negative thing I have to say about the park is that some of the guides are very bad at english and one of them, called Brad Pitt by the others, annoyed me beyond belief.. He kept making jokes that weren’t funny and when nobody laughed he would instruct us to do so.. But this was nothing compared to the rest of the experience! The mahouts are excellent at treating the animals and it looks like they are really enjoying themselves. Feeding the elephants is a real blast as they are eager to grab the food and not shy at all.
For me the real highlight of the day was the bathing of the elephants where you actually get to go out in the water and wash the elephants yourself. Their skin is really thick so you really have to put some muscle behind it. As the elephants enter the water you can tell that they enjoy the feeling of weighlessness along with the cooling feel of the river water. Right after w scrubbed them clean the elephants immediately grabbed lots of dust and sand with their trunks and used it to cover themselves with dirt again… For us it’s makes no sense but they use it as a natural sun lotion so theres a great tip for your Erlend 🙂
The park has been featured on Discovery, BBC, Animal Planet and now 175days.no so I have to say that I’m in good company. We can’t recommend the park enough and although the stories of the individual elephants upsets you and the video of their training outright angers you, the park gives you most of all a good laugh and a great time. It’s an excellent way to spend a day when you’re in Chiang Mai and the four of us all recommend it!