A Thai woman called Lek started up this elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre in the 1990s with 50 acres and 4 rescued elephants. Since then, it has grown to 400 acres with 70 elephants, 150 cats, 400 dogs, buffalo, horses and monkeys. Not only do they provide a safe environment for different types of wildlife, they have side projects to restore the rainforest and preserve local culture.
Millions of Asian elephants lived on our planet 100 years ago but today only around 30,000 exist, making them an endangered species. In Thailand, there are 4000 elephants (half domesticated) and 300 suffer in the polluted city of Bangkok. Due to human interference, elephants have been either hunted for ivory and sport or captured to beg on the streets, perform in circuses, work illegal logging and give rides to tourists.
The abuse that they face to make money for their mahouts (owners) is incredulous. They are beaten with sticks or metal, chained, caged, isolated from other elephants, starved, dehydrated, given no rest, fed chemical-induced fruit which poisons them. Since elephants are highly sensitive creatures, feeling vibrations through their feet and massive ears, they become overly stressed in the city. Some elephants are forced to breed and then mothers are torn from their newborns at only 6 months old where the baby is caged to be broken into submission for their owner. Mahouts use a sharp hook driven through the highly sensitive ear to punish the elephant if they ‘misbehave’, instilling pain and fear to trek or swim with customers.
When I arrived at Elephant Nature Park, our tour guide Andy took my group to feed the elephants melons, cucumber and pumpkin. Afterwards, we walked around the park to stroke the unchained elephants, watch them bathe in the river and later on, bathed the older ones ourselves. In my free time, I visited the cat sanctuary and the dog sanctuary where 3 energetic dogs who were paralysed from the waist down still managed to run about on their two front legs to play catch.
Our next guide led me to the amazing bungalow which I got all to myself. It had a patio right beside the river, and I sat watching the elephants wander along the riverbed before sunset. The next day, our guide took us to visit different herds of elephants and told us each of their stories before they came to the sanctuary. One mother had been forced to carry logs up a big hill while she was pregnant and gave birth on the hillside. The baby rolled down the hill and sadly died. The mother was so heartbroken that she wouldn’t work anymore, so the mahout beat her but she still wouldn’t move. Then he stabbed her eyes so she couldn’t see. A lot of the elephants are blind here. Many others have broken legs from stepping on landmines and yet they were still made to work.
Our guide took us to the medical centre where elephants come to get treated by Prasith, the vet. Prasith told us that many elephants are forced to do work they’re simply not meant to do for human greed. He said that although he can retire, he wants to continue his work as he believes in the mission, to save and love the elephants and eventually release them back into the wild.
We bathed the elephants in the river again as their poo floated past us, and made up balls of rice, grain, corn and pumpkin for those with bad digestive systems. We fed the food to the elephants and learnt that they were mentally disabled as their previous owners had fed them amphetamines. Once an elephant has drugs introduced to its system, it can’t recover.
The Elephant Nature Park was a phenomenal experience. I learnt so much information that I was unaware of beforehand, and I’m glad that I chose to give my money to somewhere which supports the elephants, not debilitate them. If you are travelling in Asia, choose not to be ignorant. Research where you go to see these majestic creatures. This doesn’t just go for elephants, but also tigers and other endangered species as well. Humans have become so lost and out of touch with nature that some believe it’s acceptable for animals to be used and abused for entertainment. Do something about it. We have the power to give them our help, and if more people decide to make the right choice by paying money to those who treat the animals well, then hopefully in time, we can give them back their freedom.
Save the elephants.