Visiting "The Elephant Nature Park"... A Sanctuary in Northern Thailand: "To Save the Asian Elephant begins with our Awareness of their plight"... The Facts about Elephant Painting (Painting Elephants), what is really going on behind the scenes?

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February 5th 2008
Published: December 28th 2007
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9/5/08: Refer to the end of this entry re: specific information about Elephant Painting (information you need to know) and a current update regarding the elephants at the Elephant Nature Park (related, in part, to Elephant Painting):

12/28/07: Entry prior to leaving on this trip: After leaving Varanasi to Delhi, an early morning flight will take me back to Thailand. Again, I will stay a night in Bangkok, then fly out the next morning to Chiang Mai. The next morning I will be picked up by staff from the Elephant Nature Park and stay for four days. They have an EXCELLENT website which I encourage people to look at ( The life stories about the elephants they have rescued will present a heartrending view into the life of the domesticated elephant. These elephants are brought together from a variety of traumatic pasts, and begin the healing process through their interactions with one-another. There is no elephant riding here, no tricks for tourists, however there is the thrill of helping feed the elephants, watching them enjoy their freedom, and bathing them in the river. This project grew out of one woman's love for elephants (Lek)... the rest of the story is history in the making. After this adventure, I will spend one night at the motel, before catching a flight back to Bangkok. The next day, (on Feb. 6th) I will be heading back to the U.S.

January 30th, 2008: I arrived to Bangkok early this morning after an overnight flight from Delhi. It is a time of reflection for me, and time to do some laundry! It was raining quite hard this morning, and is now very hot and humid. Although, I had considered seeing and "hugging" a baby orangutan at the Bangkok Safari today, I now have second thoughts about this. It has been an amazing journey, with how often I will connect with some new person for a time of sharing and conversation. This time, I met a man from Los Angeles (Bjorne) as I was leaving Delhi. He asked me if I had read some of the more recent news of how monkeys, in particular orangutans are treated in Thailand Zoos (I hadn't even told him about my plans to visit the baby orangutan!). Well, again it seems that I am to reflect deeper into what I am to support and nurture. It was enough for him to pose that question to me, as I wasn't sure if it was a selfish act on my part for wanting to hug a baby orangutan (which is an advertised activity at the Safari Park). Again, who would it be for? I would stand in line while this little precious creature of love is given to one person after another. It feels like I must say "no" to these temptations and supporting places that keep animals in this manner, even though I am sure it would of been a thrill and joy to see these little guys. It feels clear that it goes against what I feel I am to advocate for... Sanctuaries. So stay tune to the story of the orangutans, possibly a visit to the orangutan sanctuary in Java or elsewhere will be on the list of places to visit. Tomorrow, I will be leaving to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. From there, the next segment of this journey with the elephants will begin.

January 31, 2008: I arrived in Chiang Mai this early afternoon, after a flight on NokAir from Bangkok. I needed to get a pre-paid taxi from the airport as the Suriwongse Hotel forgot to come get me, however it is so easy here to arrange hassle-free transport so it was not a problem. I am settled into my hotel room for the night, and have been walking around the well-known "Night-Market." However, I was most content and pleased when I discovered a sweet organic foods restaurant nestled into a garden-like setting. The young Thai woman frowned when I was going to order their pizza and talked me into trying the Seaweed Salad, Miso Soup, and thier homemade lemon tea brew. It was amazingly good, and of coarse good for me (I don't usually like seaweed!). Well, the Thai's have a way with food presentation, gardening, and a way of respectful greetings that does make Thailand live up to its' reputation of being a land of smiles. Another highlight today was coincidentally meeting up with our driver from 3-4 years ago, when we were here for our family trip. It was amazing to both remember each other, and exchange pleasantries like old friends. Tomorrow, I will be leaving to the Elephant Nature Park and will not have internet access until Feb. 4th. So stay tuned.... If all goes well, there should be plenty of great pictures of elephants to soon bless this blog! For each of you that have asked me to give a special message, a hug, a snuggle, a pet, a tickle, and a kiss to an elephant... you will certainly be with me during this segment of this journey.

February 4, 2008, Monday.
I just returned to Chiang Mai, after spending four days at the Elephant Nature Park. It is located about a hour and half North of Chiang Mai. What to say about my experience is difficult to express in words, but from a heart level I can speak to the plight of the Asian Elephant as a dire situation that needs our awareness, help, and continued attention. Wild habitat and tolerant neighbors that don’t mind having a herd of potentially roaming elephants nearby is the biggest barrier. I learned much during this journey, met many like-minded (or like-hearted) individuals that I will continue to keep in contact with. This journey has only just begun, and I cannot say what my ultimate role will be with the Asian Elephant. I still feel it will likely include writing and fund-raising, but still I do not know. I will be following the great mystery's guidance on this path. I only know the passion I feel now has developed into a burning flame that will not be put out in this lifetime. I can say that I have wept many tears, realizing that even the Elephant Nature Park currently has its’ limits. With a total of 30- 31 elephants, seven of which are on lease from their owners for a variety of health related reasons (including being ill, or coming for childbirth)—there is just not enough space.

The seven elephants will be returning to their previous working lives, as trekking elephants primarily, whenever the owners say it is time. The park has no power or control to keep the elephants that have become integral members of the elephant-family group, and are clearly loved by the other resident elephants. There are two precious baby elephants around two years of age that are included in this group.

Spending time with these babies and seeing how much healing these connections have provided for all concerned (e.g. traumatized elephants becoming aunties, other babies bonding with one-another, and even one disabled elephant from a
To just "Be" an elephantTo just "Be" an elephantTo just "Be" an elephant

This is the dream we can hold for each elephant: May they be able to have the freedom to roam and just "Be" without having to perform for us, give us elephant rides, or be micro-managed by their mahouts. Let us hold the vision and hope for the development and support of true sanctuaries around the world.
land-mine lactating to provide milk for one of the babies, etc.) has been absolutely heart-touching. The awareness and imagined impact the loss of these elephants will have on the herd continued to grow each day I was at the park. It has been heart-wrenching to know there will be a big loss coming for these elephants, and beautiful at the same time in witnessing and sensing the love that is clearly here in their connections to one another. Sadly, the owners of these young ones are not willing to sell them to the park, and these elephants are destined to enter into the traditional training crush (which I will write more about later).

I came to the park feeling rather optimistic and with the belief that I would be arriving at the most ideal habitat. While the park is beautiful and peaceful, and the best that current captivity has to offer a domesticated elephant on many levels, there is just not enough room to allow the freedom and autonomous movement that these and other elephants deserve. When I first arrived at the park, it looked very large but after a day or two I could begin to see its’ limitation and thus the need for a true sanctuary. Otherwise, these elephants will continue to be micro-managed and closely supervised by their mahouts, in order to keep them in their habitat, for the times they spend with the visiting tourists (feeding and bathing), as well as them needing to be chained during the night. On a positive note, the Elephant Nature Park does have access to forestland, which is called Elephant Haven (also called Elephant Heaven). Small groups of elephants take turns having a night of freedom and roaming. This was beautiful to witness, and walking with the elephants to and from this perfect elephant habitat will always be remembered.

Lek, the pioneer and director of the Elephant Nature Park is seeking more land (and thus funding) that the future vision of the Elephant Nature Park could grow into—forest, and grazing territory with river access, with tolerant neighbors. This is the vision and dream we all can hold.

I have experienced moments of feeling hopeless, as I gain a clearer understanding of how human development and greed is making it increasingly difficult to find land that sanctuaries require. But, then I remember Hope. There is a baby elephant, now 6 or 7 years old, at the park whose name is Hope. He and the other baby elephants are being trained by positive reinforcement techniques, and fortunately the owners did sell Hope to the park. He will not have to endure the training crush, and will keep his sparkling and mischievous personality. He was named “Hope” for a reason, to show there is hope for how elephants in captivity are trained and treated. However, his name also encourages us to hold the hope and vision for the life of the Asian Elephant. I learned that while the wild Asian Elephant is considered endangered, the domesticated elephant is considered to be livestock, with the same rights (meaning none) as cattle. They can be poisoned, or right out killed for wandering into crops, and the abuse of an elephant (which is frequent) goes unnoticed or reprimanded. Elephants are used for street begging, and especially are brought out at night when there are tourists around shopping or eating. The mahouts (and thus the elephant’s owner) can make a lot of money off from the sell of bananas to feed the begging elephant. A baby elephant that is cute and wrinkly, and will squeak and smile on command becomes a big business. There are laws in many Thai cities that outlaw begging, however the fines are so low that it is still worthwhile for the owner to continue to work their elephants.

A few words about the training crush (or Pajaan)—it is awful and cruel, as they break the spirit of the young elephant by chaining and bounding them tightly in a crate. The confused and frightened elephant then is sent through a series of drills, training and commands. Depending on how the elephant responds and learns what they are expected to do, the training crush can last weeks. This ancient tradition includes sleep and food deprivation, pain, abruptly separating them from their mothers, and what anyone who witnesses this ritual with a heart of compassion will recognize- this is nothing other than torture. After the “crush” the mahout then has shown his dominance over the elephant, and therefore is now “theoretically” able to control the elephant. I learned that 40% of these babies die in the process, about 10% go crazy, and 50% then enter the rigorous training to please us tourists: elephant rides, dancing, sports, riding tricycles, standing on their heads, tricks for street begging, etc. (not to mention, the number of Asian Elephants that end up in circuses and zoos around the world).

So what can we do? As I have learned through this journey, it is important to keep the heart open and to not turn away from understanding what is truly going on with the animals on this planet. It may seem easier to just change the channel, or turn a deaf ear when things become emotionally challenging regarding understanding animal suffering. However, it is through this process we stay uninvolved, and we are less likely to stop our participation (and thus unintentional encouragement) of the exploitation of the animals we say we love. It begins with us, with our knowing and compassionate heart. So I share the following photos of the Elephant Nature Park. Please do check out their website, and keep the hope and vision for a true sanctuary. And, if you are able, think about donating (donations are currently tax deductible in the U.S., and in England). And, as a reminder, the other animal organizations I connected with while in India were Wildlife S.O.S. and Help In Suffering. They are both working to develop sanctuaries out of the Delhi and Jaipur area, modeled after the Elephant Nature Park.

It is time for me to say Goodbye from Thailand, as I will be leaving for home in a few days. Thank you all for following this journey of the heart. You were all with me. Please do stay tuned for the continued exploration to help the Asian Elephant, as well as other animals—I am most certain there is more to come, including a visit to the largest U.S. wildlife sanctuary called P.A.W.S., located in California (I am scheduled to visit in April 2008).

Peace to you all and Let's keep the Vision!

"Reality of the Painting Elephants in Thailand

Lek Chailart's Elephant Nature Park
May 2008 e-Newsletter

Everyone who has visited the Park in the last two and a half years probably has had the pleasure of meeting and/or even being kissed by young Pupia, who came here on a leased basis with his Mom when he was approximately one week old. He was one of our positive-reinforcement training stars and was a nicely behaved young elephant who learned a lot while he was here. A whole family group was formed around this young calf and often our newsletters stories would evolve around this diverse, happy family group.

But alas, in the world of leased elephants all good things must come to an end. The fact that they are leased means that they are here on a temporary basis and their owners have no intention of selling them. At some point, they must go back to the real world. This could happen at any time: sometimes they are with us for years, sometimes only for a few months. Pupia was lucky to have a very happy childhood growing up at the Park.

Approximately three weeks ago, his owners called and said they wanted to take Pupia and Mae Toh Koh back to their village for a ceremony that would last 15 days. They said that they would bring them back when the ceremony was finished. We were hopeful but skeptical. Just today we received news that Pupia would not be coming back to the Park, nor would his mother. Sadly, Pupia will be separated from his mother and he will be sent to one of the many training centers to be taught to paint!

As a result of a recent video posted on YouTube of an elephant painting a "self portrait," literally millions of people have become interested in the idea of having a painting done by an elephant, not realizing the cruel training methods that are used to get the animal to perform this activity. The couple that originally recorded the eight minute video of the elephant painting have a website ( where they sell paintings by elephants, among other things. Their names are Liz Allen and Mark Fangue. We think they have no idea of the baby elephant exploitation extravaganza that they are creating, or how harmful this is.

Disgustingly, there is lots of money in paintings by elephants. This couple are selling the paintings on their website, making it sound like this is a harmless activity that the elephants enjoy doing. It is very easy for people to buy into this if they don't know the real behind-the-scenes story.

At this point in Thailand, many owners of baby elephants are seeing a big money-making opportunity and are quickly whisking away their calves to train to become "Pachyderm Picassos." We would like to encourage as many people as possible to contact this couple at their website and voice your disgust and disapproval at exploiting elephants with this activity. Please help by contacting Exotic World Gifts and telling them how you feel.

Aura and Mae Boon are also on lease, and at this time Aura's owner is also planning to take her away in the near future to force her to learn to paint as well.

Please spread the word: painting is not a natural activity that an elephant would want to partake in if they could choose by themselves.

Back at the Park, the remaining eles in the Pupia family are having to readjust to the restructure of their family group. The two eles that are having the hardest time are Faa Sai and Sri Nuan. Each day is getting better, but at least once every day, Faa Sai starts running around frantically confused that she can't find Pupia and Mae Toh Koh. She calms down when she finally finds Aura or one of the other family members. She does seem to be getting a bit more nurturing from the older girls than she did before, but she really misses her little buddy Pupia.

Sri Nuan vents her frustration from the loss of her little nephew in a different way. She is sometimes seen throwing a tire around at first seemingly playfully, but then she seems to get a little bit frustrated, and gets a bit more aggressive with the tire. Once another family member approaches her, she also starts to calm down."

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