“The measure of a society can be how well its people treat its animals.” ~Mohandas Gandhi
When I first began planning my trip to Thailand, one of the things I knew I wanted to do was see elephants. So I then began to research elephant parks. I then found Elephant Nature Park; a park for rescued elephants. These elephants were once used in the logging industry, and tourism, which also means all these animals were previously abused. In Thailand, elephants are considered livestock and are exempt of animal cruelty laws. At Elephant Nature Park they do not abuse the animals and they treat them all very well.
The park is beautifully located about 1 hour outside of Chiang Mai, in the mountains along a river; a true paradise for elephants. The tour started with a video on our way to the park. Then our guide went and told us some basic ground rules and then next thing I knew I was feeding an elephant!
A lot of the elephants were used in the logging industry and still are used like this today in Burma. I saw many elephants with broken legs that were forced to continue working with its leg broken so that the logging business would not loose money. As well there were elephants with broken backs, due to tourism and people riding them. You could see elephants that were used in tourism or had been ridden had broken backs or missing hair on their backs due to the rubbing of the seat. I also heard stories and met the elephants of such tales of being blinded by their owners with slingshots and being stabbed in the eye. The treatment of these animals isn’t right.
To tame an elephant they go through what is called “Phajaan”. This is done to take the spirit out of the elephant’s body. They will trap an elephant into a small cage barely large enough for it fit and abuse it till it begins to listen to its owners. They then use sharp hooks to control the animal. You can find a lot of info on this with a simple Google search. But it is very gruesome so be warned. At ENP they do not put elephants through anything like this. Instead when they train elephants they use positive reinforcement.
Back to the park; a little woman named Lek founded it. She has since helped start two more parks; one in Cambodia and one in Burma. At the park in Chiang Mai she has rescued now 38 elephants from tourism and the logging industry. These elephants all have horrible stories from the past but I can confidently say they now have a better standard of life due to her. I had the privilege to hear her speak about her experiences, rescuing elephants, and the troubles she has had doing so.
At ENP the elephants are free to roam and do as they please. They form their own family groups and stick to them. I spent two days at the park and you really get to see the personalities of all the different elephants and how they all stick together in little families. It was quite the sight to see.
In conclusion, if you go to Thailand, do your research and don’t support riding elephants. Don’t run to get your picture with an elephant in the middle of a city. They are simply not meant to be in cities. Head to the country and visit some free roaming elephants. I had a really good time at the park and highly suggest you visit it on your visit to Thailand!
Thanks for reading,
All photos taken by Jesse Boily