Whilst in Thailand we decided not to do the usual trek into the jungle, ride on an elephant and visit a village en route as is tradition with most travelers to the northern regions of Thailand. Instead we opted for a more unique and caring option, for the elephants at least!
We decided to visit a special place set up by one very devoted Thai lady called Lek who established a 'safe' environment for elephants who would otherwise be mistreated, abused, underfed and overworked.
These elephants are mostly in fact rescued from exactly the types of places that run 'elephant rides' and use elephants for begging on the streets, performing to tourists and in illegal logging operations.
It was very sad indeed to learn that many have been mistreated and abused by their owners and given the lowest possible regard and respect, similar to that of a stray dog, despite the fact that elephants are sacred in Thailand! This seems crazy to me.
The way we, you can help is by visiting places like 'the elephant camp' set up by Lek which acknowledges the fact that elephants have a massive tourist pull but instead of working them
into the ground and teaching them to do silly things for tourists like painting a picture or to play football - things that they would never normally have to do. In effect forcing the elephants to ''perform" for us.
Instead Lek's ambition is to allow us, the tourist, to just go and see elephants for what they are and observe them in the natural habitat. Elephants doing what they should be doing....being an elephant!
This is what we did, we went and stayed for one night at the elephant camp and just absorbed the wonderful atmosphere that Lek had created there. A place where you can feed, wash and admire these magnificent animals in their natural environment.
All but a few of the elephants that Lek has at the park are rescued either from domestic work or hard labor. This sadly includes carrying humans on their backs. This incidentally is not their strongest place to carry anything. They carry weight much more easily on their heads or with their trunks, so in fact carrying a heavy metal frame with heavy humans in it on their backs is nor comfortable or easy for them at all.
In one tragic
case, the same female elephant miscarried three times as a result of having to carry people on her back for long periods of time. She was so distraught and mourned the loss of her unborn young that she came to the centre. She is exactly the type of elephant that Lek wants to save.
Elephants are highly intelligent creatures and as the saying goes 'an elephant never forgets.' Therefore these beautiful creatures are indeed scarred by their previous experiences, and sadly remember everything. It’s amazing to understand that they feel and think and go through very similar emotions to humans. Knowing this makes the whole experience even more special because knowing what they have been through in the past and knowing that they carry those scars and pains with them everyday makes seeing them happily bumbling around all the more special.
Walking with these graceful giants down to the river and getting in with them, getting completely soaked and throwing water on them and scrubbing them, and have them playfully squirt water at you from their trunks was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and something I will never forget.
I wish more people
The tallest elephant in Thailand
knew about Lek and her mission to save the elephants of Thailand that through one way or another are slowly but surely reaching the brink of extinction. It seems so sad that they animals, these wonderful playful and immense animals, these gentle giants may not be around for all that much longer if we continue to supply a need for the tourist elephant which sadly fuels a sad and brutal trade and mistreatment of these passive creatures.
It was exactly what I wanted to do when I came to Thailand. I wanted to see the mighty Thai elephants- but I am so grateful for the fact that I didn’t just go on a trek and get on an elephant and instead did this incredible experience, where we actually got up close and personal with one of the worlds most incredible animals.
Here are a few snap shots of our incredible experience. The babies were so gorgeous but very strong even at such a small size. The youngest was just 3 months old and already trying to show his immense strength! One of the 10 month old girls tried to head butt James playfully into a muddy puddle on
the way to supper - very funny, cheeky thing!
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