During my trip to Thailand I was determined to scratch “Touch an elephant from close by” off my bucket list. Ever since I was a little girl, the African elephant has been my absolute favorite animal. Something about their grandeur and the beauty of their language has intrigued me for many years. But I was in Thailand, so I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to see the beautiful Asian elephant from close by.
As I already said back in June, it was very important to me to find a place that tolerated zero cruelty to these great beasts and that’s how I ended up at Elephant Nature Park in the Chiang Mai province. While looking through the possibilities I noticed that a lot of the tourist spots (as all of them are) claim to be sanctuaries or retirement homes for abused animals. Sadly this is not always the case. Even though I was quite tempted to ride an elephant, the idea that I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes troubled me. Therefore I chose to go to the only spot that I trusted, where no riding is allowed, only looking, feeding and a little bit of washing from a distance.
Elephant Nature Park is the only park where the animals live in self-chosen families (in a huge domain). They wander around with their friends and when their mahout needs them, it’s a question of persuading them with bananas, no hooks in sight. You can clearly see the tight bond between the mahout and its elephant because yes, it’s a purely one on one relationship. “Our” elephant for the day, Mae Bua Loy, was a female wild born elephant that had a very visibly broken leg due to forced mating within captivity and was reduced to street begging when she was rescued (it isn’t uncommon for elephants to be purchased solely to help their owners to beg for money off of tourists). Another noteworthy fact, elephant aren’t the only animals in the rescue centre. You will also find more or less 400 dogs, 50 buffalos, 30 cats, 2 horses, 2 pigs, a macaque and a cow in the park that have also found a home here.
While I have been a vegetarian for 10 years, I’m not one for giving lectures on not eating meat, wearing fur or cruelty to animals. I’ve also never really given an opinion about it on the blog. But when you’re traveling it’s pretty confronting to see how naive some people can still be about what really happening. Therefore I felt that this post was the perfect vehicle to mention it. The sad truth is that when there is money to gain, some people don’t care about the conditions in which animals are treated as they are just a source of income. And this is not solely a problem in the poor regions of the world or in the tourism sector, this is present everywhere. Just think of the recent angora scandal. When it can be cheaper, faster and make more money in the end, a lot of the time animals are just means to a goal. On my few travels I’ve heard the stories about Thai mahouts hitting elephants non-stop, seen skin over bone horses pulling carriages in Tunisia, witnessed tourists on a snorkeling trip destroy all the coral over which they were swimming, saw a dressed up monkey on the beach of Koh Phi Phi surrounded by Chinese tourists and spent my last hours in Thailand picking up garbage and plastic bags out of the ocean. Moreover there are other things to think about, for example what happens to those cute little tiger cubs when they grown up and how a fully grown (often drugged) lion can take a picture with you.
When you’re traveling, if we’re being honest, you’re often just a source of income for the local community. In the poorer parts of the world you also can’t put blame on these local communities because there is often a lack of money (to even feed themselves properly) and most of all a lack of education. So I feel that it’s up to us, tourist visiting these beautiful countries, to make conscious decisions. This might not be the cheapest option but you’ll get a far better experience from it.
All photos were taken by me and no zoom lens was necessary 🙂