Elephants: A Preview

My third day in Chiang Mai was the day of my biggest adventure yet: elephants! Now for all two of you reading (hi Mom!), I’m going to warn you right now – this entry will be brief. I took about 300 photos while visiting Elephant Nature Park and this trip really made clear the limitations of my Chromebook, namely insofar as editing photos (let alone videos, of which I may have a few) is a real PITA.

I will say this: it was an amazing experience. Really from the moment we got off the van that picked up the ten of us from our various hotels, we were face-to-face and hand-to-trunk with elephants. The elephants at this park are all rescued from one place or another – logging camps, street performing and begging – and many have injuries: one stepped on a landmine, another was blinded as punishment by its former owner. Some of the stories are heartbreaking.

But this is a pretty great place for a non-wild elephant to wind up, it seems. The grounds are huge. The elephants are clearly still on display, but given that most of them are habituated to humans, they seem pretty OK with it (as much as one can discern an elephant’s satisfaction with her lot in life). There are definitely routines in their day surrounding their interactions with visitors – but they center primarily on hanging out with tourists who proffer bananas and watermelons as we all amble along through the park. Oh, and there’s also some time spent in the river, dousing them with buckets of water (and feeding more bananas and watermelons).

The locals working at the park seem really engaged in the park’s mission and know the elephants well. The mahouts guide the elephants exclusively with their voices and their hands. No hooks (though presumably the elephants were all subjected to that type of training in their former lives) are used. And they all know the individual elephants – their names, where they came from, their ages, their stories. It was really the most impressively run animal facility I’ve seen – and they do a fantastic job for the visitors as well. I’d guess there were dozen or two separate groups visiting during the day I spent there – but other than seeing a few folks off in the distance, our day was spent primarily with our group of ten, our guide, the mahouts and, of course, elephants. I can’t say enough good things about this experience.

Oh! And in addition to elephants, the park is home to hundreds of dogs and a whole lot of cats. What more could you want?

Once I’m back home in SF with access to a full-powered computer, I’ll write more about our activities that day – but here are a few photos to give some idea of my great day with elephants.

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