There is a big part of my recent trip to Thailand that is missing from my blog posts – my one week volunteership at the Elephant Nature Park – just outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. It was the main reason that I headed off to Thailand again and I’ve been struggling to blog about it, as I cannot seem to capture the experience in words. I will try my best, in words and pictures. What I feel in my heart for this place cannot be expressed.
Elephant Nature Park is an elephant sanctuary, or more accurately, an elephant heaven. All the elephants at the park have been rescued from some form of (in most cases, multiple forms of) abuse and domestic work. Land mine victims, illegal loggers with broken limbs, blind ellies, broken and beaten, they’ve all been rescued by the amazing people at the park.
The stories behind the past of these elephants is heartbreaking and the fact that there are countless more where they came from, in the same situation, is even more heartbreaking. What animals that take part in as domestic work, or tourism entertainment, have to endure and the multitude of animals treated in this way is something that I struggle to comprehend. Thailand is famous for its’ elephant trekking and all sorts of animal entertainment for tourism, but if you take a look behind the scenes of this trade, you will be disgusted at what you uncover. I’ve never been one to force the realities of animal abuse down anyone’s throats and I am not about to now, but what I learnt about Thai treatment of animals, and Asian elephants in particular, who are supposed to be revered in their culture, is really something else.
So the Elephant Nature Park provides a haven for these gentle giants with such traumatic pasts. It was founded and is run by Lek Chailert – the warmest heart you will ever meet. She has so much love for these elephants and has dedicated her life to saving them. Hearing her sing to the young elephants to calm them down when they were upset with the introduction of a new baby, Navann, reinforced the gentleness of her kindness and passion.
Not only do they care for elephants (and let me tell you – the process involved with this task is no easy feat, it is a mass effort on a daily basis to keep the place alive), but they also have a dog shelter with over 300 rescued dogs (mostly from a mass rescue mission in the last Bangkok floods) and there also seems to be a water buffalo rescue effort going down there inadvertently!
When one of our volunteer group members asked Lek what we, as society, can do to help the cause, she did not respond with the standard answer of “donations”, she rather said “your voice”. So this is me, sharing my voice and helping to show people what is really going on in Thailand. As a tourist, please please please stay away from anything animal-related – it is almost certainly an abusive situation. Don’t be a part of it. Visit the Elephant Nature Park instead and experience true compassion. It is rare in this world.
This is proof that there is good in the human race. We see so much stupidity and heartlessness on a daily basis that this refreshing experience of raw human kindness is rare.
Feel free to leave your comments asking me any questions about my experience there as a volunteer – I am very happy to answer anything about this treasure of a sanctuary!