Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christmas Day - Elephant Nature Park

Platforms are raised high above the ground so that the elephant can easily take food from our hands. Holding out bananas, squash and cucumbers, we wait for her trunk to gently curl around the items and then stuff everything into her mouth. A clump of bananas includes all the peels and the stem - down the hatch!

From Thailand - Elephant Nature Park

Krista and I are at the Elephant Nature Park, a preserve about an hour away from Chiang Mai in the northern part of Thailand. This park was established by Lek Chailert as a refuge for elephants. She "rescues" elephants who have been injured through work and performances to provide them with a free life in a beautiful setting.

An elephant heads to her palm-tree shade for break time...
From Thailand - Elephant Nature Park

The stories of these elephants can be disturbing. From physical abuse to land mine damage to being orphaned at a young age, most of the elephants have had a rough time in their lives. Did you know that some elephants are actually addicted to meth in order to work longer? A few are lucky to be born here and we watched some young ones romp in the mud.

From Thailand - Elephant Nature Park

One, a particularly frisky baby was intent on pestering an older elephant. He pushed, bit and charged. The older elephant showed lots of patience and only rarely kicked out or waved her trunk in warning.

From Thailand - Elephant Nature Park

In between bouts of pestering, the young one would grab his trunk and shake his head. This activity was reminiscent of a dog chasing its tail. Suddenly, the young elephant shrieked! This may have been a result of the older elephant stepping on him or an odd fear of a nearby dog. Regardless, this sound instantly brought the older elephants over. They trumpeted, a deep, threatening sound, and circled the baby in a protective manner. The elephants continued making sounds for several minutes until relaxing and following their mahout, or human counterpart into the field.

It was nice seeing this baby protected and knowing he would not have to undergo the traditional "breaking" process most elephants experience. As explained to us, a young elephant is weaned and taught to be submissive through a three (or more) day trip to hell. Pulled away from her mother, the young elephant is put into a small bamboo structure and poked and prodded until its spirit is broken and bent to the control of a person. Not all elephants survive this process. Lek, who we finally met at the end of the day, and her staff are attempting to pioneer a humane training program.

After feeding the elephants, we headed to the river to give the big 'uns a bath.
From Thailand - Elephant Nature Park

Krista asked a local how the cute babies came to be since there are no adult male elephants in the camp. The smiling guide explained that from time to time the elephants go on "holiday" into the nearby forest. As it turns out, one of the roaming females must have met a wild male and had a bit of a forest fling.

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