One year ago, elephants I will never forget

One of the main reasons I travelled to Thailand a year ago was the chance to see and experience the amazing presence of elephants.  Before the trip, my sister and I researched different elephant tourist opportunities to make sure that the elephants were treated well. We settled on the Elephant Nature Park (ENP), near Chiang Mai. But until we got there, and heard the whole story, I had no idea that elephants in Thailand (and surrounding countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos) were abused at such a horrific level.

Part by luck, part by research, we ended up at the right place.  Started by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, the Elephant Nature Park is a place that buys and rescues elephants so that they can live out the rest of their lives free from abuse. They heal the physical and emotional wounds as best they can and give the elephants a loving home while providing visitors with an experience that raises awareness and allows an up close connection with these amazing animals.

Before visiting ENP, my sister and I talked about what it meant to visit animals that had been abused and, as in the case of elephants, where abuse continues to this day. Emotionally difficult, we made a commitment to bearing witness while there, to expressing our apology as humans through emotion, and to following up by speaking up and by sharing.  That is part of the purpose of this post. To share with you these elephants, and to raise awareness that when you visit Thailand and nearby countries you know that the elephants in trekking camps (where you can ride on the elephants), and street begging, and painting pictures, have all been abused so that they will “behave”.  And so that you can help share the message and educate others.

To help you to bear witness, here is a short description of the abuse and then I can share some more amazing photos. In places like Thailand, baby elephants are captured from their Mothers and Nannies (who usually die protecting them) and are submitted to the “kraal” or “crushing”. They are placed in a stall, tied up, and then submitted to beatings and other punishment until they “behave” and then they are used in the logging industry, for street begging or to carry humans (especially tourists). You can see many examples of this abuse from the photos – chunks of ears missing from beatings, knee injuries from being forced to work in the logging industry and poor eye sight or blindness from the car lights while being used for street begging.

ENP was a place where my heart broke at these sights, but filled again with love watching the elephants rescued and free from chains.  While at the Park, we had the opportunity to watch the elephants, walk near them (with supervision), throw water on them in the river to cool them and make rice and banana balls for the elephants that couldn’t see to find food and feed themselves.  Each elephant is cared for and watched over by a mahout, an elephant keeper who is bonded to the elephant. Some of the mahouts made carvings of their elephant, which visitors could purchase. We stayed over one night so we could hear the elephants at night and in the morning, rumbling and trumpeting to each other.

My gratitude and thanks to those who play a part in rescuing these elephants and to the educated tourists who support ENP and the related sites and programs that work to end elephant cruelty and use eco-tourism to support Thai communities.

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