Another Throwback Thursday post! Something we did but we never posted about...our visit to Elephant Nature Park!
Elephant Nature Park, in northern Thailand, is a sanctuary where elephants can live out their days in peace and happiness. An elephant doctor keeps them healthy and they each have a mahout to keep them out of trouble (and because they are social animals the mahout's are their friends--with them every day)!
Here we are with our tour guide, Petch! She was great with the kids!
On our arrival, we were taken to the main building where it was almost time to feed the elephants.
We were asked to stay behind the red line because elephants trunks are very strong and a number of them that live here are blind. They could easily (and accidentally) knock you right off your feet.
This old lady was blind in both eyes. Her former owner had jabbed her in the eyes repeatedly when she didn't obey him. You can see her 'spit' marks all over the decking as she checked us all out by scent.
At this first feeding we fed Tilly. Here is Alia learning 'how' to feed an elephant. There is a technique and she got it fast!
You had to cradle one side of the trunk with one hand while placing the food in the crook of their trunk underneath/to the other side and then hold it there just long enough for them to get a grip.
Josiah found his own way to do it since he had trouble holding the big watermelon chunks with just one hand. He waiting for the elephant to come up over top and then let go once they had it! Notice the open-mouthed concentration! :)
The kids in "The Pantry" at Elephant Nature Park, Thailand.
Here is a family herd that was moving through the sanctuary on their way to the river. They had a 1 year old baby in their midst. It is very hard to tell when an elephant is pregnant and they gestate for almost 2 years. The elephant clinic on the property does not do pregnancy testing or ultrasounds so when a calf is born it is a surprise for everyone! There are only 2 males elephants in the sanctuary currently, one is adult and the other is only 3 months old...you will see him later. The adult male, Hope, is kept in a back area of the sanctuary and the females can choose to go to him (at night when their mahouts are gone) if they are in heat or choose to stay away from him altogether. As a newborn, Hope was the first rescue Elephant Nature Park's founder Lek Chailert ever saved.
Here we are with Tilly and her mahout.
Differing from a LOT of other places these mahouts are committed to gaining and maintaining trust with the elephants in their care not with violence and abuse but through love and rewards for positive behavior. It is the commitment of Elephant Nature Park to be a place where the abuse stops for these elephants. Many have physical and emotional scars from their former lives. Here they find love, peace, happiness and gentle hands.
Isn't she a beautiful, girl?!?
We walked beyond Tilly to see this 9 month old with her Auntie.
Next we headed to the Elephant Clinic. We had to pass by Tilly on our way back. She waved, good-bye!
This elephant was getting IV fluids in the clinic. She (like many elephants who come to the sanctuary) had a fear of not getting enough food and would eat too fast without chewing creating recurring bowel impaction. This either stops over the course of a few months as the elephant realized there is always enough food or it never gets over this fear and these special girls have to be fed separately with feed that has been pre shredded
This is Erica, the volunteer Elephant doctor. She was really great to chat with. She will be leading a group of students to a cheetah sanctuary outside of Johannesburg next month. We hope to be able to go and see her again here in South Africa!
Sadly, many of the residents of the sanctuary have permanent disabilities caused by their former owners. This poor girl was made to walk around the in the traffic congested city where her owner solicited tourists to pay him to take pictures with her or buy a small handful of food to feed her. She was hit by a bus and had both back hips broken. Elephants are too heavy to set broken bones so she is in pain every day but at least at the sanctuary she isn't forced to walk all day long or be beaten for walking too slowly.
Jon and Alyssa are friends we met that day. This was when we had finally convinced Jon to touch an elephant!
My little boys watching the elephants go by. I was standing in the doorway of the room where Paul and the big kids were watching a short documentary about how Elephant Nature Park came to be. It shows in detail what is done to a young elephant in order to 'tame' it for use by humans. Tragic, horrifying and disgusting acts against these sweet creatures...it was disturbing. I was glad the little boys weren't in the room for that part!
Some playful pachyderms in the river.
We met a sweet girl named Dany (dah-KNEE) who we had the privilege of giving a bath in the river.
She's nice and clean! Next up...a mud bath (elephant sunblock)!
As Dany went off to mud pit, the herd we saw earlier in the day came up from the river and stopped to eat some watermelon.
One year old calf (the same you saw in previous pics) eating with her family.
Behind Alia's head is one of the mud pits the elephants like to bathe in! The mud just flies!!!!
The calf with her mahout. It made us happy to think about this little one never knowing the abuse her mother endured! This pic was taken from the walkway that is above the elephants. The kids and I were laying on our tummies watching.
Here we are up above the elephants. It was a great place to hang out!
After watching the herd eat and bathe in the mud, we moved on to check out a small family that includes the sanctuary's youngest resident, 7 month old, Dindee. He seemed to be VERY interested in Thys! Maybe because they were eye-to-eye or because they shared a common vibe, we don't know, but what we do know is that baby elephant wanted to make physical contact with him! Dindee's mahout worked overtime to keep him back as he is very big already and could have trampled Thys in his exuberant infantile curiosity!
For this super cute photo Thys was backed up into my legs as hard as he could and I put the camera on his shoulder. Doesn't that little eye seem to be looking into the depths of Thys' soul?! The mahout stood next to Thys and continued to feed Indee so he was there to physically come between them when the baby elephant wanted to 'get a little closer'--which he did a few times. It was a very beautiful experience! Who knows...maybe Thys has a career as a gentle mahout in his future! Elephant whisperer???
Dindee's mother was hit by a car and has only one breast remaining. This is a pic of Dindee's Auntie's foot. She stepped on a land mine while clearing a forest for her former owner. She was forced to continue working even after the accident. She was often beaten for not working as fast as some of the other elephants. She now lives a peaceful retirement with her new family.
We walked back to the main building to feed Dany before we left. A number of the pachaderms lined up against the large pipes awaiting the tasty morsels before they even brought out the food. The mahouts rested int eh shade on a bench right behind us in this picture. One elephant (who we learned likes to be rowdy) started stepping sideways and nudging the animal next to it. The nudging turned to pushing. Just after I noticed, her mahout stood and called out to her. She stepped back and stopped pushing. He waited a while and then he went inside and brought back a watermelon piece and fed her and patted her. That is the behavior typical of the elephants and their mahouts at Elephant Nature Park. They are friends and they spend their days together but they have also learned trust and respect for one another. Rewards for good behavior and bad behavior is not punished.
Zander slept through this feeding time.
We learned from Petch that some of the mahouts whittle small carvings of their elephants and sell them in the gift shop to earn a little extra money for themselves and Dany's mahout was one who did! We were more than happy to purchase a little wooden statue of the elephant we spent our day with made by her mahout. It is not spectacular to look at but it is very special to us and so far on our trip it is the only souvenir we have purchased.
We hope you enjoyed coming along with us on our trip down memory lane. This was s super fun post to look back at and since I have been working on this for a few days the kids have looked at the pics all over again and want to go back and visit Elephant Nature Park again! Someday, I hope we can.
I am looking forward to your comments and questions!