For Christians, Easter is traditionally a time of family, celebration and giving. This year Islam’s Ramadan also falls on this period, which is also a time of giving for many around the world. So today I though I’d share one of my most meaningful life experiences.
A long time ago I needed to escape and do something a bit different. So I found a volunteering opportunity that had availability within the next few weeks in Thailand working at an Elephant rescue centre. It was one of the most amazing experiences. A month ago I randomly decided to look back through the photos but found that I didn’t have them. I must have deleted them, along with about three year’s worth of photos, accidentally. I thought that I had transferred them to cloud storage. Now, I only have the great memories, my t-shirt from my time volunteering there and a book that I bought in the gift shop. This place is so amazing that I thought it deserved a post and some recognition. Today’s post is about my time at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.
About the Elephant Nature Park park
Lek Saengduean Chailert is a truly inspiring woman who has spent a lifetime rescuing and protecting animals, mainly elephants and dogs. She set up the Elephant Nature Park in the 1990s, circa 30 years a go (I remember some of the 90s and so this makes me feel very old!), as a sanctuary for elephants who have been rescued from horrendous situations, such as the tourist or logging trade. The park is reliant on donations, sponsorship and volunteers. Per their website page, you can support them by:
1. Visit the park, or tell your family and friends that they are welcome to visit our website and park., or sign up as a volunteer
2. Follow us, Tweet and share our activities on our social network community.
3. Donate direct to Save Elephant Foundation
4. Serengeti Foundation has helped Elephant Nature Park since our inception. US residents may click to Donate here via Serengeti Foundation and claim 501(c) tax relief.
5. Let people at home know that there are only 30,000 Asian Elephants left on the planet. (Imagine this in human terms, as under a third of a sports stadium crowd)
6. Do not support elephant poachers by buying ivory or skin products whether allegedly legally obtained or not . Demand causes death to these innocent creatures.
7. Write a story for your local newspapers describing the plight of the elephant and how we can all assist in their survival
8. Order something from the Save Elephant Foundation online shop – all proceeds help.
9. Sponsor an Animal at our park and beyond
10. Buy some of our ENP Coffee (USA Direct ordering and subscriptions)
11. Help fulfill our wish listHow You Can Help – Elephant Nature Park
You will see below that this Elephant Nature Park also has a sizeable dog rescue centre and you can also sponsor a dog!
I cannot remember the exact itinerary or sequence of events but I have some really strong memories that will never leave me.
First, the layout of the park. I have a strangely good geospatial memory. I can’t tell you how to get somewhere but I can recall the layout of a house or place. Of the nature park I remember a main building with a large eating area that was on a veranda. You ate breakfast and dinner there and could watch the elephants across the outdoor areas of the park and the vetinary/medical building. To the right was a treehouse that looked over the river edge where you could watch the elephants play in the water. Below the main dining area, and along a path, were the volunteer’s bedrooms, basic and perfunctionary with shared bathrooms.
Secondly, the ‘education’ evening that we had. I don’t remember there being more than one, but I could be mistaken. Lek, the park owner, gave a talk to all the volunteers about why she was there and why and how she started the nature park. The bits that I still remember are:
- A video about the crushing technique used to make elephants submit – crush their will.
- Lek’s description of injuries suffered by elephants made to carry passengers and tourists on their backs, the weakest part, instead of their necks, where their mahouts sit.
- Images of poor female elephants with hips and pelvises broken by male elephants during forced intercourse.
Humans, we, can be so cruel to animals.
Thirdly, the work. I do not remember the exact sequence but I remember getting up each morning to work hard. For example, sitting in a big warehouse sorting out bananas into buckets for the elephants. The bananas were going off in the heat and I can still smell the sweet stench and feel the stickiness. Or cleaning out the elephant night time enclosures, which consisted of taking out the dirty straw and hay and putting in fresh. That doesn’t sound too bad but consider the volume of dirty hay you had to remove! And then there was the sugar cane (I think). We travelled in the back of open trucks and were given gloves and large curved machetes. We spent the morning cutting (what I remember to be but it honestly could have been anything long, sweet and tough) sugar cane and piling it onto the trucks. The work was hard and the heat was unbearable but we were all having such a good time. You could see our progress and we were all proud of the piles that we accumulated. These are some of my most rewarding memories.
I also have such an appreciation for anyone who labours in the heat, or does manual labour at all.
Finally, we got to spend our afternoons with the animals. We would help the mahouts bathe and wash the elephants in the water. This was so much fun and I had some really great pictures from this time. One time we had to run quickly up to the tree house as the cutest baby elephant wanted to play – they are absolutely huge and playing is usually painful for humans. The staff and mahouts calmed it eventually but it was fun. We also got to feed the elephants the bananas and food that we’d collectively prepared in the morning. Or you could just sit and watch them play by themselves. It was absolute bliss.
What about the dogs?
While this was an elephant nature park, it had a dog rescue centre that was full of dogs. They lazed around (all vaccinated) and wandered everywhere. Keeping out of everyone’s way but enjoying the odd pat here and there. They stayed in the dog centre near the entrance to the park where volunteers visit and be smothered by lots and lots of loving dogs. They were just so happy to be there and be looked after.
There was one night when a small dog decided to nip my ankles when I came upon them and a few other dogs while walking back to my room alone at night. No harm, not even a scratch, I had obviously scared them coming around the corner. It was a gentle reminder that animals are animals. Dogs are dogs. We can domesticate them as much as we like but when startled they will always defend themselves. I sometimes think of that night when I see dogs interacting in the parks in the UK. Respect the nature in animals, the instinct.