Published: June 8th 2012June 6th 2012
Today we were booked on our 2 day excursion to the Elephant Nature Park, which we had booked on the Internet prior to coming away. We had spent a little time trawling the net on which one of these Elephant parks to visit and after much deliberation and some good reviews on Trip Advisor had plunged for this place. We were told that we would be picked up at around 8.30am but to be ready from 8.00am, so we had to get up reasonably early to get breakfast in before we set off.
They were a little late collecting us, but once on our way, it was about 1hr15mins north of Chiang Mai, into the forest area. Our guide showed us a video about how and why the park was started, and what the aims of the project were. The video showed how elephants are still being used to beg in Bangkok and for rides, and how they are considered to be livestock in Thailand, so as the numbers decrease, they are not considered to be in danger. During the wildlife film, they met the owner and founder of the park "Lek", who showed them some of the elephants she
had rescued, including a very tiny one she had called Hope. Our guide told us there are 34 elephants in the park, and a lot of dogs and cats which have been taken in as well.
When we arrived at the park, we were taken upto a viewing platform where we could leave our belongings. Straight away, it was feeding time. A number of the elephants came upto the platform, and the Mahouts had baskets of fruit for them. These varied, some were watermelon and pumpkin,others corn and pineapple. We were encouraged to feed the elephants by putting the fruit into the curl of the trunk where they cleverly balance it, devour it, and quickly come back for more. There was not much evidence of table manners, and they certainly sounded like they were enjoying their food! The trunk is actually quite soft, but very hairy, and very wet at the end.
Our guide came to tell us that after the buffet lunch, then we would be going on a walk, and then after that we would be able to go and wash the elephants at the river.
A bell rang for lunch, and we went and
Sweetcorn and Watermelon
helped ourselves. There was plenty of choice, albeit vegetarian, with noodles, rice, potato curry, and chips. There was mineral water , and you could buy pop if you wanted, and there was fruit for dessert.
A little later, covered in suncream and insect repellant, we set out on a walk across the park. Quite a lot of the elephants have been rescued from illegal logging or begging, and have physical and mental issues. One of the teenage boy elephants Jungle Boy had had to be separated from the others as he was in musk, and they had him on a long chain as his behaviour was very unpredictable. We noticed walking that the elephants are quite vocal, and there were a number of "trumpets". We could also see the family group in the distance, where there are two babies, and a number of aunties and a grandma.
We then went to the Medical centre, where two of the elephants were having treatment to their feet. Also at the centre we met an elephant that had had both of it's hips broken, and as elephants are such large animals, the breaks heal in the wrong places. As a result
this elephant walked really badly, and every step she took looked so painful it was heartbreaking. Luckily, she was accompanied at all times by her best friend who ensured she was protected from some of the more boisterous elephants.
We returned to the platform, and we each handed a small bucket for the elephant washing. We headed towards the walkway and as we did, a steady procession of elephants was making its way down to the river. The elephants genuinely seemed to like having buckets of water thrown over them, and with the more force the better. One thing to watch for in the river was elephant dung coming downstream at you -uurg! The Mahouts let us feed the elephants, and it was amazing to see what narrow mouths they actually have. Some of the elephants at the park are of an age where they are on their last set of teeth - they get 6 in a lifetime - and once they wear down, they cannot chew their food aswell, meaning they don't get as many nutrients from their food.
Once we had finished washing the elephants, we moved back upto the walkway, and the family group
approached to bathe in the river. They don't let people participate in this, as the adults are so protective of the babies, but once they had finished, we were allowed back down to get closer to them. Our guide gave us some basic pointers on getting close to the elephants, as for such big animals, they move remarkably quietly, so we always had to be aware of our surroundings in case an elephant approached from behind. We were able to feed one of the babies, and again they made some interesting noises including one a bit like a sea lion. The baby was getting bananas, but without the skins to eat. Then we were kissed by one of the elephants! It was like having your face sucked!
After this, we were taken to our rooms, ours was called Jungle Boy. There was no air conditioning, but a couple of fans and a very large mosquito net over the bed. The bathroom at the rear of the hut was open air, and you could through the trees see some of the elephants in their stalls.
We returned to the platform, and once again it was feeding time for the
elephants. They do eat a lot. Some of the visitors come for more than just a couple of days as volunteers, and help with mucking out the stalls and in the kitchen. At the back of the building was an area where the fruit and veg for the elephants is chopped up, counted and weighed and put in the baskets.
We returned to our hut to change, and to be honest despite the fans having been on, they had made no difference to the room temperature at all. Before dinner was being served, there was a ceremony upstairs by a local Shaman to bless the new volunteers, with music from local school children and some of the village elders. He blessed some flowers, did a lot of non musical chanting, and when he was finished we were invited to have a blessed piece of string tied round our wrists for luck. After this the dinner bell rang, and we went for something to eat. It was similar to what we had had for lunch, and we were able to get a beer to go with it. All the time we were sat there, elephants moved past the platform to
go to their stalls for the night. They sleep for about 4hours a night, laid down.
There was little to do after this, as we had not thought to take our laptop, as we didn't think there would be Wi Fi. We retired to our hut to try and get some sleep, knowing that the noises of all the animals and insects in the surrounding forest would probably keep us awake.
There are more photos below