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Published: October 18th 2010
In April 2009 we travelled with our then eight year old son Jack to Thailand. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined how much of a life changing experience this trip would be nor the amazing journey it would lead too.
Originally my son's main ambition was to see elephants playing soccer and painting pictures. Embarrassingly I have to admit that we had no idea what brutality elephants must endure to learn such circus acts. Luckily during research on the internet I stumbled upon a blog written by a past guest of the Elephant Nature Park not long before we were due to leave for Thailand.
Seeing an elephant show was Jack’s dream, so the decision of where to experience the elephants was handed over to him along with all the information I had at the time. It was an easy choice for him and we were relieved and proud of his decision to give up his dream in exchange for the more ethical choice of the Elephant Nature Park.
On our arrival at the sanctuary we were struck by the sight of elephants everywhere roaming freely and the tranquil peace for both humans and elephants alike. We felt that we belonged here immediately and there was an overwhelming sense of the enormity of what was being achieved and that we were a part of something very special.
Every elephant at the park had their own story but the common bond they all shared was that they had all suffered at the hands of humans. Some elderly elephants had been saved from the tourist trade and had endured years of abuse from metal barbed clubs and the dreaded hook. They had pressure sores along their curved spines where metal chairs once rested so that tourists could travel in comfort. Others had come from the streets of the cities where they were used to beg for money from tourists.
The highlight of our stay at the Elephant Nature Park was meeting a very special elephant called Lily. Lily introduced herself to Jack soon after our arrival at the park as he was sitting quietly on the ground by himself. When I heard him giggling I turned around and was stunned to see that Jack had the trunk of Lily, a fifty four year old elephant wrapped gently around him. From that moment on, Jack and Lily became inseparable friends and it was surreal to see them together.
On a walk around the park we were introduced to many of the elephants and we were told of an American couple who had visited the park a week earlier. They had only come for the day and had heard how one of the leased elephants who had been brought back to health over an eighteen month period was about to be sold by its owners. They had been touched by this elephant’s story and the husband decided to buy it as a birthday present for his wife. They donated it to the park and in doing so, saved it from a life of misery begging on the streets of Bangkok .
This was a critical turning point in our lives as Jack instantly wanted to save an elephant too. We explained to Jack how we could not afford to do the same and although he was disappointed it was assumed that was the end of the idea. We were very, very wrong as we found out several days later when Jack brought up the subject again, only this time he had a plan. Jack had thought up at least ten different fundraising ideas to help raise the money needed to save an elephant. He had thought his plan out well and we could think of no reason to stand in his way.
We returned home to New Zealand and Jack jumped enthusiastically into raising the $20,000NZ he needed to save an elephant. Through crazy hair days at local schools, a motorbike trail ride, a celebrity auction, an elephant photo fundraiser featuring works by some of the worlds best photographers, hiring out his bouncy castle, garage sales, a dinner, selling magical reindeer oats at Christmas, lemonade at the end of the drive and a constant stream of his famous chocolate cakes, he has finally reached his goal.
On the 28th of October we will leave for Thailand on the final leg of a journey that has been both incredible and life changing. A journey to save the most needy elephant we can find and bring it to the Elephant Nature Park where it will live out the remainder of its life in dignity and freedom.
As tourists please remember we hold the future of Thailands endangered elephants in our hands. We have the ability to choose responsible travel with our tourist dollar and in doing so the power en masse to secure a better future for these beautiful peaceful creatures.
9 sleeps to go :-)
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