I was having a scan of my holiday pics this morning, and remembering my favorite day of the holiday. We were in Chaing Mai, and it was towards the end of our trip. Carrie, my travel companion, had already been to Chaing Mai the previous year, and done the trekking tours people head there to do, so we decided to head out to the Elephant Nature Park, and spend the day learning about these beautiful creatures.
The park is all thanks to both the inspiration and hard work of one woman, known as Leck, which is thai means little, and she is probably one of the most incredible women I have ever met. The daughter of a medicine man, she chose to devote her life to changing the conditions of elephants, taking in the abused and ex-working elephants, taking them from villages that are unable to care for them, and heading out into the villages that keep them with medicine and advice. Beginning with one elephant at her home, she has now managed to build a huge sanctuary, with all the elephants need, plus room for all of the tourists which promise to bring in money and help to keep the park going. We only went for one day, but some tourists go to spend weeks helping out with the day-to-day running of the park, and supporting the keepers (with each elephant having at least one keeper, and a couple with two it is a large family).
It was the most brilliant day. We were given the chance to feed, bath and generally spend our entire day in the presence of these amazing creatures, and learn their stories. One of the older ones had been blinded by her previous keepers. Having been pregnant but continually made to work, she gave birth to her baby at the top of the hill. It rolled down the hill and died and when she refused to work they stabbed her eyes. Another had her back broken when her owners tried to breed her with a bull too big. There were so many sad stories but also so much love and joy within the park.
Our guide showed us one elephant, and ex-circus elephant, whose trainer keeps getting into trouble for continuing to encourage his elephant to do tricks. The elephants should no longer be made to do any form of work whether that be tricks, or carrying or breeding (all breeding at the park is done naturally). However, when you saw this trainer with the elephant you saw that in fact they were having fun together, enjoying each other’s company and playing with one another. Not only that elephant but all of the elephants and keepers seemed to play with one another, with the babies keepers playing chase. The place seemed to be filled with fun and love, and it was a brilliant atmosphere to be among. Throughout the entire day we just felt so lucky to have the opportunity to be around the animals and experience their lives, and I can see why so many people go along to the park. In fact I think Leck is right that a new form of elephant tourism could one day be breed.