So Louise and I were super excited to come to the Elephant Nature Park after hearing amazing things: firstly, from my sister (she visited 3 years ago) but also from other travellers we spoke to! The nature park is a rescue and rehabilitation centre for previously abused or mistreated elephants.
We were collected from our hostel and taken to the office where everyone collected a T-shirt, water bottle and handed in their forms before we set off towards to park. On the way we were shown a video documentary showing a few of the reasons why some of the elephants were in the sanctuary including: illegal logging, trekking, street begging and circus performances. All of these videos were very graphic and showed how poorly many of the elephants were treated. They were terrified of their owners, if they didn’t follow instructions correctly they would get a sharp hook to the head, a nail to the ear or even a rock slingshot to the eye! These practices still continue today but Lek(the parks founder) and Elephant Nature Park are slowly trying to challenge treatment of elephants in Thailand and the rest of Asia. One of the major issues is that these domesticated elephants (not in the wild) are classed as livestock meaning they have little legal protection. This means that police rarely act on poor treatment of elephants as it’s just too much hassle.
The video made us all more conscious of the importance of what we would be doing and why we were doing it.
When we arrived, we were shown around the centre and caught our first glimpses of the elephants in the park. The park is very Jurassic Park esc, with a gorgeous yellow light cast across it at around 5:30pm. We sat and took in the surroundings watching the various animals parade past. The park is home to over 500 dogs, 30 elephants, cats, cattle, monkeys and one piglet.
Our daily activities included:
Ele kitchen-a combination of unloading trucks of watermelons and pumpkins, and washing melons.
Ele poo- touring the park and literally scooping poop. (More interesting than it sounds)
Cutting corn- A very sweaty day trip from the park in the back of a pick up truck to a field of grass. We were handed scythes and told to cut anything green and leafy. This quickly became tiresome so the team of us probably only managed 2 hours of hard graft…oops
Ele bath- wading into the river nearby and launching buckets of water over mud covered eles (best job ever!!!! And they loved it!)
On top of this we have had added extras!
Firstly, an evening chat from ENP founder, Lek. She was so inspirational when talking about abuse towards elephants and other animals. Lek told us first hand some of the awful things she’d whiteness. However, my favourite thing she said during her speech was “Elephants become kinder and more caring to one and other everyday, humans do the opposite. But we should be more like the elephant”. She also believes that you’ll never make progress by making enemies (*cough* Donald Trump *cough*) and that the only time people listen is once you are friends. This means that even people she disagrees with (those who mistreat animals) she will be kind and make friends with in order to help them change. A lesson we could all learn from I think.
Next was a Thai culture and language lesson! We leant: how we should be greeting different people (the Thai equivalent of shaking hands); about the royal family; the significance of our heads and feet; and also public etiquette. I found this particularly fascinating as we learnt why some of the traditions were practiced. A good example being the clasped hands and head bow when greeting people, signifying the lotus flower, which is commonly related to Buddha. We also were taught simple Thai language. The most important thing being, “Can I get a discount?” pronounced in Thai- “Lod dai mai ka”.
We also were taken to visit a local school. At the school we made bracelets with the kids, drew in their work books, played piggy in the middle (not the conventional rules though, the eldest boy never had to be in the middle… apparently) and were dragged around the school hand in hand by a fascinated young girl. We each had things pointed out to us, few of which I personally understood but all of which I grinned at enthusiastically meaning I was shown even more. It was so fun to see more rural Thailand and interact with the kids in a way you never would as a tourist in the city.
Our Friday night was topped off by a fantastic performance put on by the mahouts. (Mahouts are the men who look after the elephants- each elephant has its own mahout who is like their best friend but also their carer) The mahouts played flutes and drums to various tunes including, surprisingly, Auld Lang Syne. At one point they wanted volunteers to join in so 10 of us ended up dancing along in a fighting scene style to their music. It was hilarious, as none of us volunteers understood what we were doing or why we were doing it. We had a blast all the same.
On Saturday night, as a goodbye, some of the children from the school we visited came to perform for us over dinner. Some danced and others played instruments, all of it was traditionally Thai. They dressed in beautifully embellished costumes all complete with cute head pieces. It was a nice way to spend our last dinner in such a special place.
The food everyday was amazing. A huge buffet of Thai dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each meal was ALWAYS accompanied by water melon 🍉 and fresh, crunchy salad (a rare sight in Thai cuisine). Louise and I especially relished at the sight of olives, it’s the little things right?
Our week here has been so special in so many ways. I’m leaving ENP feeling educated, having had my eyes opened to such abuse. The violent mistreatment of elephants is real, and happening now. We are the only people who control what happens next, we must boycott elephant riding, street begging and circuses as it’s your money funding the abuse. If you are coming to Thailand (or anywhere in South East Asia) PLEASE don’t take part in the abuse of elephants.
Lek spoke to us so we could speak to others, so I guess here I am.
All in all my time at ENP has been fantastic, I’ve met so many new people, interacted with elephants in a way I’d never imagine and had a BALL doing it.
☀️ S ☀️