I’m here to tell you all about the amazing experience I had visiting the Elephant Nature Park, the elephant sanctuary.
Established by award-winning conservationist, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, over 16 years ago, it’s a project which not only rescues injured and mistreated elephants but which educates tourists about responsible practice.
The elephants at Elephant Nature Park come largely from abusive pasts including being overworked in trekking camps, circuses, forced breeding and street begging, to name a few, which have left them with permanent injuries from the horrific torture they had to endure at the hands of their owners.
Before reaching the park, they showed us a video on how to behave around the elephants and on how the elephants were mistreated. I had already seen videos about the abuses that elephants (and other animals) endure and I have to say that even already knowing all about this I had to control myself not to cry with the images from the hidden cameras. The calfs are taken from their families and since the mothers and aunts protect their young with their lifes, they are usually killed or severely harmed when poachers kidnap the calfs. The young calfs are then tortured, the owners use a practice known as ‘phajaan’ or the ‘crush’. Tied up in a small cell-like structure for days and nights, the elephant is beaten and subjected to sleep deprivation and hunger to break their spirit and conform to demands, the torture is so terrible that the baby elephants need to be watched 24/7 because they try to kill themselves by stepping in their own trunk. It is just horrible and I’m getting disgusted just by writing this down. The elephants are then used in circuses, logging industry, entertainment events, you name it… They are forced to walk on hot tarmac roads by gangs of elephant owners and beg for fruit and food. The owner often buys the elephant purely to obtain begging money from sympathetic passers by. As he has scant experience with animal training, the hapless creature is cruelly treated and beaten as the rider becomes impatient. In the city the animal cannot possibly get the 200-300 kg of food and 100-200 liters of water necessary for it’s daily nourishment so it plods the hot polluted streets, thirsty hungry and confused. These animals quickly suffer from stress through polluted air, poor diet, dehydration, loneliness and their sensitive ears are soon damaged. Much of the fruit purchased from local sellers has been treated with chemicals and causes serious stomach problems and eventually death.
At the Elephant Nature Park I found that the elephants are allowed to roam freely and do as they please, they weren’t tied to anything and they were rewarded with treats and not scared into doing stuff for our entertainment. These animals were rescued from circuses, logging industry, begging on the streets and all kind of abused, at this point they don’t know how to live in the wild, so they are protected and taken care of at the sanctuary. They are divided into herds and live happily at the sanctuary. This sanctuary is also home for more than 400 rescued dogs and cats and rescued animals from slaughter houses.
There are a few different programs you can choose from and I would recommend that you do it weeks before your visit. I wanted to to the over night program but is was already sold out, so I did the Elephants Trails, single day program and it was A-MA-ZING!
We were a small group of 10 people, so the elephants wouldn’t get overwhelmed. Arriving at the Park we were given special clothes to change into, hats and water and we started our program. The first thing was to clean the elephant food, cucumbers and bananas, so we could remove the chemicals so that the elephants wouldn’t get sick. Placing a bug chunk of cucumber or a small bunch of bananas at the end of the elephant’s trunk, it’s in their mouth and swallowed quicker than you can reach into the basket for the next piece.
This herd was a family of 5 with only one male. The oldest has 40 something years old and the youngest, Nina, is only two and was already born at the sanctuary. Because she knows not pain or suffering she is fearless and being a baby, she wants the attention all for herself, such a cutie!
After the feeding time, we walked around with them until the river. They are extremely gentle and calm always aware that they can hurt you, so I found them to always be aware on how they moved around us or touched us with their trunks.
Reaching the river they were so happy, specially little Nina that dove into the waters! We walked with them on the river until reaching another part of the sanctuary where they left the river, back to dry land, at it was time for lunch (for the humans). The all vegetarian lunch was delicious, the most delicious vegetarian dishes that I’ve tasted in Thailand, we had 2 different options, rice, french fries, and fruit.
I have to say that the caretakers were always extremely nice to the elephants, giving them kisses and petting them and the elephants didn’t seemed to fear them at all, but respected and liked them instead.
What you immediately notice here is that there is no hitting, shouting, or the use of tools from which inflict pain to force action; the park does not have forced breeding or the use of chains (something that exists in other parks); there are also no shows, no rides, and no gimmicks like elephant painting. Instead, all that radiates from the elephants and everyone that works here is love, trust and positive reinforcement.
With our tummys full, it was time for the mud bath. We went back to the elephants and the caretakers guided us to the mud pit. It was so much fun!! The elephants were extactic and the human group loved it as well. Some people fell on the mud, others thrown mud to each other and after a few minutes we were all covered in dirt, humans and elephants alike. All you could hear were laughs and some cute high-pitched chirps of joy, specially coming from little Nina, she was so happy! And I laughed as hard as I could and for a few hours the world was beautiful and there were absolutely no sad thoughts on my mind, I was as happy as I was a few years ago, before the incident that changed my life.
Almost one hour later we left the mud pit strait to another part of the river, a bit deeper, for a swim. Once again both elephants and humans were super excited and happiness was in the air! Everyone had a silly grin and we were splashing each others, elephants using their trucks, humans their hands and some buckets, it was super fun.
Nina at one point got fed up with this and climbed back up to dry land, at that moment the other elephants followed and so did we. We all went back and fed the elephants, once again, with the left overs of cucumbers and bananas. Once more the brave Nina started running between all of us, stealing the treats while the rest of the herd remained still, well behaved, waiting for us to give them food. After something about 20mins there was no more food and Nina was still among us when the rest of the herd decide to move somewhere else… Nina screamed angrily seeing here Mom walking way and ran to them, so funny!!!
We went back, took a shower and it was time to say goodbye to the sanctuary.
While the elephant tourism industry won’t change overnight, there are ways visitors to Thailand, can send a message to the industry that they find the mistreatment of captive elephants unacceptable. Tourists can also abstain from going to elephant camps and skip any attractions that feature elephants doing tricks.
Those who want to spend time with elephants should visit places where they can experience the unique thrill of interacting with elephants without causing them harm.
Quero contar-vos tudo sobre a experiência incrível que tive quanto visitei o Elephant Nature Park, o santuário de elefantes.
Fundado pelo premiado conservacionista, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, há mais de 16 anos, é um projeto que não só resgata elefantes feridos e maltratados, mas também educa os turistas sobre a prática responsável.
Erámos um pequeno grupo de 10 pessoas. Chegando ao Parque, foram-nos dadas roupas especiais, chapéus e água e aí começámos o nosso programa. A primeira coisa a fazer foi limpar a comida dos elefantes, pepinos e bananas, para que pudéssemos remover os produtos químicos, para que os elefantes não ficassem doentes. Colocando um pedaço de pepino ou banana no final da tromba do elefante, este leva-a à sua boca e engole mais rápido do que a nossa mão consegue chegar ao saco para agarrar a próxima peça.
Esta família era constituída 5 elementos, com apenas um macho. A mais velha tinha 40 anos e a mais nova, Nina, apenas dois e tendo já nascido no santuário. Como não conhece dor ou sofrimento, é destemida e por ser um bebé, quer toda a atenção para si mesma, coisinha mais fofa!
Chegando ao rio eles estavam super felizes, especialmente a pequena Nina que logo mergulhou nas águas! Caminhámos com eles rio a cima, até chegar a uma outra parte do santuário, onde eles deixaram o rio, de volta para a terra era já hora de almoço para os humanos. O almoço vegetariano estava delicioso, dos melhores pratos vegetarianos que provei na Tailândia, tínhamos 2 opções diferentes, arroz, batata-frita e frutas.
Devo dizer que os cuidadores foram sempre extremamente carinhosos para com os elefantes, dando-lhes beijinhos e acariciando-os e os elefantes não pareciam temê-los, mas sim respeitá-los, gostei bastante de ver isso.
O que imediatamente se nota aqui é que não há bater, gritar, ou o uso de ferramentas de que infligir dor. O parque não tem criação forçada ou o uso de amarras (algo comum noutros parques), também não há passeios montados em elefantes e truques como pintura, em vez disso, tudo o que irradia dos elefantes e de todos os que lá trabalham é amor, confiança e reforço positivo.
Passada quase uma hora, deixámos a poça de lama, directos a outra parte do rio, um pouco mais profunda, para um mergulho. Mais uma vez, tanto os elefantes como os seres humanos estavam super excitados e a felicidade sentia-se no ar! Todos tinham um sorriso tonto e do nada estávamos atirando água em todas as direcções, os elefantes usando as suas trombas, os seres humanos suas mãos e alguns baldes, foi super divertido.
A dada altura, a Nina, ficou farta disto e subiu de volta à terra seca e naquele exacto momento todos os outros elefantes a seguiram e nós também. Voltámos a alimentar os elefantes com as sobras de pepinos e bananas. Mais uma vez, a corajosa Nina começou a correr entre nós, roubando as guloseimas enquanto o resto do grupo permanecia sereno, bem comportado, esperando que lhes dessemos comida. Cerca de 20mins depois já não havia mais comida e Nina ainda estava entre nós quando o resto do grupo decidiu mudar-se para outro lugar… A Nina gritou furiosamente vendo que a sua mãe lhe virou as costas e correu para eles, tão engraçada!
Regressámos à base, tomámos banho e foi hora de dizer adeus ao santuário.
A indústria do turismo elefante não vai mudar do dia para a noite, mas há maneiras que os visitantes da Tailândia podem usar para enviar uma mensagem à indústria, mostrando que consideram inaceitável o maltrato de elefantes cativos. Os turistas também podem se abster de ir a campos de elefantes onde estes são maltratados e ignorar todas as atrações que apresentam elefantes fazendo truques.
Aqueles que querem passar o tempo com os elefantes devem visitar lugares onde podem experimentar a emoção única de interagir com os eles sem lhes causar danos e sofrimento.