Published: May 21st 2012May 21st 2012
One of the last things I thought I’d ever do I did and I almost didn’t do. I went to spend the day with elephants at Elephant Nature Park just outside Chiang Mai. I hummed and hawed about whether not to do it because although I think these mammals are spectacular, I was also quite nervous being in their presence, up close and personal with this beast. It is after all the largest living land animal on Earth. At birth, an elephant typically weighs 105kg and can reach a weight of up to 10,000kgs with a height of just under 4m /13ft!! I was really nervous and then this thought came to me. We regret more the things that we didn’t do in life as opposed to the things we do. And my decision was made. I am so thankful that in the end I decided to take the risk which might not seem much for many of you and go for it.
I went for an elephant ride in Nepal in Bardia National Park. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that either because I feared that the elephants may have been and still are treated with cruelty. Others
told me that even if they hit the elephant, the elephant feels just a slight tap. After having gone on the ride and witnessed how the elephant was treated; I realized I’d made the wrong decision and swore never to ride another elephant. I can hear you all laughing. I know it’s not something we do on a regular basis but for me the opportunity came up again in Chiang Mai and then I saw an advertisement for The Elephant Nature Park.
The Elephant Nautre Park is the result of the inspiring vision of one woman, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert to create a better world for Asian elephants. Lek is from a hill tribe group called the Khamu and has been fighting for the rights of the Asian elephant for decades. She has received several awards including “Hero of the Planet” by the Ford Foundation in 2001 and has been featured on National Geographic and Discovery Channel just to name a few.
What’s the difference you ask? The Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for over 35 rescued elephants ranging from calves to old matriarchs over 80 years old. The elephants at this over 200 acre park
are free to choose a family, form small herds, and live among people who love and respect them. There are no elephant rides offered here and they’re not expected to work or perform but are able to roam freely, feeding as they desire and playing as they wish.
I went for a one day visit and was able to feed and bathe elephants. Visitors are able to actually stand among the elephants touching and feeding them. We were even able to help bathe them; it was actually more like water play since elephants actually prefer to be covered in mud because it keeps them cool. There are visitors that can stay for a week or more to work on projects that directly benefit the elephants including collecting and preparing food, cleaning shelters, digging mud pits and bathing the elephants.
Each elephant has a caregiver/mahout, who is responsible for the wellbeing of their elephant. Lek and her mahouts are pioneering a gentler approach to teaching young elephants by using love and positive reinforcement instead of pain.
This day was one of my top ten days not only because I had the privilege to spend a day among these
beautiful creatures but above all because I learned or at least reminded myself that even if we’re afraid to do things we shouldn’t miss out on experiences simply because of fear. Fear helps us to prepare ourselves for unforeseen problems that might arise. We fear things, think about them, work them out and if they happen we are better prepared to cope. And then who knows, sometime in the near future I might even muster up the courage to do a bungee jump or go for a paraglide……NOT! But you might!
There are more photos below