Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is one of the best experiences you can have while traveling in Thailand. It is a rescue and rehabilitation center that cares for elephants, dogs, cats and other animals in need of a good home.
Before committing to one of these sanctuaries, I did a load of research to be sure that I selected a legitimate organization. I wanted my tourist dollars (or baht in this case) to help a group that actually made a difference in the lives of local wildlife. Many places throughout Thailand simply use animals to generate income regardless of how the animals are treated.
I didn’t want to visit a place that allowed tourists to ride on the elephants – with or without a wooden basket. Other places trained elephants to put on a show or to paint pictures with a paintbrush. I was looking for a place where these battered and abused elephants could live out the rest of their days in peace, and Elephant Nature Center seemed to be the place.
On the way to the shelter, we watched a documentary about the sanctuary. It gave us a solid base and background about the elephant situation in places like Thailand. In the past when logging was legal, elephants were often used to haul the logs from place to place. Mahoots owned them and would train them to obey their commands. However, training methods could be very physically, mentally and emotionally abusive.
When we arrived we hand fed the elephants. We stood atop the main wooden structure while elephants and their trainers arrived. The elephants lined up in front of us and stretched their trunks over the beam grasping for all the fruits they could get. We fed them bananas, watermelon and sugarcane.
Later, we got into the river with the huge elephants for their daily baths. Armed with plastic buckets, we tossed water on them (and each other). But, we all had a great time and I’m sure they elephants did too.
During one part of the presentation, we met a female elephant whose hind hips were obviously misaligned. Our guide told us that she broke her pelvis while in the care of a logger who wanted to forcibly mate her. Her potential mate was a very large male who took his aggression out on her. I was sad to hear and see the results of this story. There were so many stories and physical examples of animal cruelty, but I was glad that the Elephant Nature Park worked to stop this type of abuse.
The Park even had a program for long-term volunteers. These volunteers stayed on-site and helped to care for the elephants and other animals. I wish I had more time to do something like this. It would be a great way to spend a few weeks. I’ll definitely plan for more activities like this in the future. So, if you’re in northern Thailand and seeking an authentic experience where your actions can directly affect the care of animals, a visit to Elephant Nature Park should be at the top of your list.