April 20th 2019
Out of the 6 weeks we spent in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia during April and May 2019 our day at Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park, “Pampering the Pachyderms”, was definitely one of our most enriching and touching experiences.
During our previous trip to Thailand and Chiang Mai 4 years ago, we discovered the amazing opportunity to make positive change in elephant protection and education by getting involved in care and support of elephants living freely and lovingly away from the abuse found in the elephant logging trade and elephant tourism trade. However, to get the opportunity to “Pamper the Pachyderms” you must book well ahead and be prepared to pay a relatively large amount of cash.
There are only 8 vacancies each day to participate in this particular program and spots open up 90 days before the event. So exactly 90 days (Thai time) before the selected day this trip, we went online from our home in Canada and booked our 3 spots.
Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants in Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai Province, Northern Thailand, approximately 60 kilometres from Chiang Mai City, co-founded by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert.
An elephant camp neighboring the Elephant Nature Park has four female elephants which have been rescued from their tourist trekking seats and their mahouts hooks and given a free and loving lifestyle. We were so grateful to be able to learn about these magnificent gentle giants.
Initially, I must confess I was a bit nervous placing the small bananas, watermelon chunks, and balls of food on the crook at the end of their trunks when they presented them to us. The elephants were massive (although smaller than African elephants) and their trunks maneuver in a snaky type motion. But they were patient with us and as we quickly discovered….had a sense of humor!
Only small groups of people each day get to spend hours observing their freedom as they walk, scratch, swim, eat, dust bathe, and interact with people… all at their own pace. The cost of 6,000 Baht (about $255.00 CAN) each for the day’s experience was so worth it!
We discovered that the elephants had great intuition, and personality. The younger female (65 years old) Saad was extremely fond of Alexander and tended to follow him and interact with him more than most of the rest of us. She also seemed to have a sense of humor and was playful. She liked to wrap her trunk around his waist and sneak bananas out of our food bags! She must have sensed his gentle, loving heart!
Please click the following link to watch a slide show video of some of the highlights from our day “Pampering the Pachyderms”.
After being picked up from our respective hotels, the guides explained the history of the nature park and the tragic, unsettling histories of most of the elephants that have been rescued from both elephant logging and the elephant tourist trades.
Our group consisted of 8 foreigners from Canada, Australia, England, and Europe. By the end of the adventure, we all felt pretty connected to each other, our guides, and the 2 female elephants (Happy and Saad).
We learned that the life span of a female elephant is about 80 years and our 2 elephants were 65 and 70 years of age!
We learned that elephants develop anxiety when chained or put in noisy locations and can develop behaviors like rocking back and forth.
We saw some horrendous injuries to elephants at the main Elephant Nature Park when we arrived there in the afternoon. These animals are so intelligent and have unique, curious personalities.
I am so thankful there is a movement towards freeing these magnificent animals and recognizing they should be treasured– not abused.
Did you know when a new baby elephant is born, the herd surrounds the baby and trumpets? We also observed the elephant family surround a baby when it takes a nap.
I guess they also understand the saying “it takes a community to raise a child”. Pampering the Pachyderms is an experience we will always cherish.