There are many opportunities to visit elephant sanctuaries whilst backpacking throughout Thailand and Asia, but we must start with a very serious matter. Do not just go to the cheapest one with the best salesman, please do your research and select an organisation that really does support the endangered Asian Elephant. So many places describe a safe haven for elephants but they are chained, beaten and abused into submission. If you are offered an elephant ride or see an elephant in chains please avoid it at all costs as this is a clear indication of an illegitimate sanctuary. If all you’re after from an experience with elephants is a new profile picture and you don’t care how you get it then you are not welcome here!
Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre in Northern Thailand and our time there was one of the most memorable days from our travelling adventure (we know we say that a lot!) We started the day with some background information about the organisation and were told story after story of how many of the elephants were now blind, severely injured or bearing scars from previous owners. Elephants are giants of the mammal kingdom but are such gentle and playful creatures. The stories brought a tear to your eyes, half in sadness but half in joy that these elephants finally got to live their lives in a world without chains and abuse.
Being as big as they are, there was only ever going to be one thing to start with; feeding! Standing on a platform nearly three metres high, we were surround by tens of elephants! Their muscular trunks reached up through the barrier to grab everything from melons to bananas. The first time you come into contact with these magnificent creatures, you realise something. They are alive! This may sound silly but they really are alive and it’s magical, you sense their emotions, their moods and best of all … they sense you.
Moving on we explored the enormous grounds of the sanctuary and we were delighted to see that each and every elephant was free to roam as it pleased. No forced feeding sessions, no blockades, just freedom. We came across a pair of elephants in their 80s first, a real pair of golden oldies. They were just being themselves, no showing off with tricks and definitely no riding, just a bit of back scratching on the nearest tree trunk.
Now, we have all seen the video of the two baby elephants playing in the pool, however, we had no idea just how much fun these gorgeous animals had in the water. With the larger elephants soaking up the midday sun in the river, large lumps starting appearing in the water … There were five adorable, younger elephants splashing and rolling around! It was an incredible sight and watching these elephants grow safely and happily is truly something special.
There was a show of real collectiveness too as a few dogs turned up and decided that they wanted to join in on the fun. The dogs were eyeing up one of the younger elephants and the baby started yelping for help. The ground started trembling and another slightly larger baby elephant stomped over out of nowhere, blowing its trunk and the dogs soon scarpered. It was so funny and cute to watch and after the drama, the elephants returned to their day of eating, back scratching and relaxing.
The best part of the day came towards the end. With the sun setting, some of the larger elephants moved into the shallower river and continued to eat their array of fresh fruit. We stripped down into our swimwear and joined the elephants in the river and bathed them in the dimming Thai sunlight.
Whether you’re an animal person or not, we implore you to see reason and open your eyes when travelling abroad. If something is too good to be true, it invariably is. You get what you pay for in life and if you spend a little more, you can get the experience of a lifetime without adding to the misery of these incredible, endangered animals which are subject to the horrifying tourist trade and temple rituals.
An elephant never forgets …