Wednesday, May 13, 2015

elephant nature park, thailand

before we went to southeast asia, we didn't do a whole lot of research. we bought our plane tickets and reserved hotel rooms, but we didn't read guidebooks or blogs and we didn't plan out our days. except in regards to the elephants. seeing and hanging out with elephants was my non-negotiable for the trip -- so i planned on doing a lot of research to find the best possible park to visit. i spent hours on the computer, reading articles and blog posts about the most humane parks, and sending emails to friends to get their opinions and recommendations. and i spent hours crying. i cried as i read reviews of parks that use elephant hooks and trekking chairs. i cried to learn that many of the elephants in these parks have been abused, blinded, or forced to beg, and that many of them have spent most of their lives in the logging industry, a now illegal practice that, unfortunately, still happens. i cried for the beautiful, gentle creatures, that are slowly going extinct in southeast asia, and desperately need humans to fight for them, not abuse them.

thankfully, in the course of my reading, i did find one park that seemed like a light in the dark: elephant nature park. enp is run by lek, a kind-hearted woman who grew up surrounded by elephants and couldn't bear to see the way they were treated and abused. lek started saving elephants in 1996, buying them from logging companies, street performers, and other tour companies, finding them a home in an elephant friendly piece of the jungle north of chiang mai. but she didn't stop there; she also rescues dogs (400+), cats (~200), water buffalo (too many to count), and other animals.

currently, there are over 35 elephants at enp, most of them female, many of them disabled; eight are blind, from years of abuse or camera flashes, and some have broken hips or backs. but they are happy at enp. they have created family groups and have guests and employees fawning over them. each elephant has a handler, or mahout, that follows them around, ensuring their safety, but the elephants are free to go where they want. and unlike other parks, the mahouts carry bananas rather than hooks. also, unlike other parks, you can't ride the elephants at enp. riding an elephant, even without a trekking chair, is a painful experience for an elephant, because despite their size, they have very fragile backs. (please don't ride an elephant, even bareback on their necks.)


if you decide to do the single day visit (2500baht), this is what your day would look like: you will be picked up from your hotel around 8am and driven to the park, about an hour north of chiang mai. during the ride, you'll watch a video about the park, the rescued elephants, and rules to follow. (bring tissues -- the video is pretty sad.) once at the park, you'll be able to feed the elephants, pet them, bathe them, and walk around the park with them. you can also visit the cats and dogs, but you'll have to ask your guide. around mid-day, enp serves one of the best veggie lunches; it's an all you can buffet, but there are a ton of people, so if you see something you want to try, get it on your first go-around. after lunch, there is another video to watch, this one much much harder than the first. it details the process elephants go through to become submissive and it's one of the hardest things i've ever had to watch. you can get up and leave during the movie, of course, but i don't recommend it -- it's so important that we're educated on these inhumane, but traditional, practices, so that we can educate others and stop the cycle. there's more time to play with and feed the elephants after lunch, and you'll be back to your hotel by 530-6pm. 



things to remember when visiting enp: you can't wear a bathing suit, it's disrespectful to the thai culture, so make sure you have a quick drying shirt and shorts, as well as shoes that can get wet. bring money to tip your guide, most of them pay to be volunteers. (you can also be a volunteer for the elephants or the dogs, read more here.) make your reservations well in advance, especially if you want to do more than the single day visit (2500baht).

want learn a fun fact about elephants? you can tell the sex of a baby elephant by how long it stays in utero: for a male elephant the gestation period is 23 months and for a female it's 18 months. crazy, huh?

(ps. here are two of the reviews i read that helped me decide on enp if you want to do your own research: 1 and 2.)

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