She gracefully swings her trunk over along the thick, gray, wrinkled ear of another elephant. They stand next to each other in the field, tapping gently with their trunks, communicating through noises they send through their long noses. The elephant is talking to her friend in a way she can understand since she is unable to see. They lightly trumpet to one another, the calls are low pitched squeaks. Our group stands and quietly watches them as they chat over their lunch, like a couple of ladies at a cafe for brunch. It is such a treat to see elephant behaviors in a space that is more like their natural habitat, getting to see them in their own world.
Unfortunately, there are several blind elephants at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) due to cruelty from their previous owners. The park is committed to taking in elephants that have been domesticated and are injured or have been abused. They rescue these elephant so they now get a life here at the sanctuary where they can roam freely, grazing, bathing and socializing like they would in the wild without every being harmed or made to work again.
Asian elephants are currently endangered and it’s organizations like ENP that are helping keep these animals not only from harm but also extinction. There is a dycotomy that exists in Thailand surrounding elephants. They are the nation’s symbol, found in religion and in their culture, you will even see the image of an elephant on a logo while drinking the local beer. For as much as the elephant is revered, the age old practice of domesticating an elephant, called Phajaan or ‘crushing’ is brutal. The elephant is tied up and basically tortured for six days until it is so fearful it will listen to the handler, or mahout, so it can avoid the abuse.
Volunteering at ENP
I had the most incredible experience at the park as a volunteer for the week. It was gratifying to be able to help these animals and have fun at the same time. Because we got to spend so much time with them up close it never felt like true work. Each day we had a morning chores following breakfast and we worked up until lunch. Chores were mostly things that needed addressing around the park, cutting up fruit for the elephants, scooping elephant poo, cutting banana trees, or cleaning bamboo by the river.
After lunch is your afternoon chore and then every day at 3:45 the elephants are down at the river getting an afternoon bath.
The water buffalo like afternoon swimming too…
We had a great group of volunteers that were there the whole week, I had a chance to make some amazing new friends and the experience bonded all of us. In addition to our work week there were also cultural activities we had the chance to participate in. The first evening at the park a shaman came to bless everyone for a safe and happy work week and to close out the week local children came to perform a dance while we had a traditional Thai dinner. Going to the school in the village was a treat, it was so fun getting to interact with the kids.
What can I do to help the Asian elephant?
Having some knowledge about the situation is a great place to start. Also, you can spread the word – know someone that is traveling for work or holiday to Asia? Make sure they know about how some places cash in on the tourism trade by having elephants do cruel tasks like being overworked for trekking tours or forced to do tricks like painting or playing games. Elephants are just as amazing animals to observe up close without riding them or seeing them put on a show. Put your dollars towards organizations like ENP that are looking out for the welfare of animals so we don’t perpetuate the problem!
Look into more about Elephant Nature Park and the amazing and inspiring work that they do on their website. If you can’t take a trip to Thailand to volunteer and experience these wonderful creatures up close you can always donate to the cause.