At the Elephant Nature Park, about one hour north of Chiang Mai, longer-term volunteers begin each Monday. We were picked up at 8:15am by a van from our condo and after a brief stop at the office to pay our balance and pick up our volunteer T-shirts and water bottles, we were on our way with about 25 fellow volunteers.
On the drive, we watched a video explaining the plight of the Asian elephant, and more specifically, how dire the situation is here in Thailand. We learned of elephants begging on city streets, drugged up so they can cope with throngs of tourists and endless traffic. The lives of these elephants are sad ones, as their stressful, lonely days are void of the love and affection only a herd can give.
We learned that while elephant begging is illegal in Thailand, it is rarely enforced. We also learned about the horrific act , known as the “crush”, which abuses young elephants into submission. For more information on this, visit this site:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_crushing. The process of domesticating such an animal is both heart-wrenching and stomach-turning. Our lives changed during that drive to the sanctuary. We have found a cause to fight for. If you want more information or would like to help as well, please let us know.
One of the people leading the charge and fighting on behalf of the elephants is Lek. She’s the founder of the Elephant Nature Park and is involved in numerous other projects as well. She welcomed us upon our arrival and whole-heartedly thanked us for our time, commitment and, of course, our money.
We took a tour of the park, meeting a bunch of its 34 long-trunked residents. We had a chance to feed some their morning meal – about 50 kilgrams of fruits and veggies each! Here is Mindy feeding squash to a baby elephant:
After a delicious buffet lunch, we joined the elephants in the Mae Tang River for a bath. This was the source of so much joy for us. Here is Ligeia feeding and helping to bath an elephant named Dani, soon to become Mindy’s favorite elephant at the park:
Mindy enjoyed bathing the elephants as well and we tried not to miss this activity each day:
We were given free time to simply watch these beautiful creatures roam free throughout the 300 acre sanctuary:
Some didn’t want to get out of their bath right away:
And when they finally did, they walked straight to the mud pit to cover themselves with mud which we learned helps protect their skin from the sun:
Our first day was wonderful. The vegetarian food was delicious, so it’s nice to know that elephants and humans alike are well-fed at the park. After our first dinner the group of volunteers had a meet-and-greet so we could get t know who we’d be working with in the 6 days to come. Our group included Canadians, a few Australians, a couple English, 2 Danes, 3 Germans and a woman from Belgium.
We went to our room and after a full insect inspection of the premises, we finally rested under our mosquito nets. Here’s Mindy all ready for bed:
We fell asleep very excited about what the next day would bring.
Mindy and Ligeia :):)