One cannot come to #Thailand and leave without visiting some elephants! Chiangmai is THE place to go for that. To my surprise, visiting an #elephantsanctuary would be the biggest highlight of my trip. It completely changed my perspective regarding the current treatment of these majestic animals.
I did not realize the big moral dilemma surrounding animal tourism, especially regarding elephants, until I visited the Elephant Nature Park, which was where animal efficacy really hit home for me.
#Chiangmai has several elephant sanctuaries. Seeing the happiness on elephants' faces, the quality of their nutrition, and the level of gentleness that they were being treated with, it was clear that the #ElephantNaturePark was doing right by these elephants! However, one must do their research as some elephants are treated better than others.
Established in the 1990’s, their aim has always been to provide a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants. What is particularly special is that they care for many distressed elephants who have been injured or in harmful situations. There are many domestic cats and even a dog that also claim the sanctuary as home. The nature park is in a protected valley surrounded by a river and mountains, explaining the reason why we had to hop on smaller vans to provide us access to the inside.
When we first arrived to the premises, we were asked to line up behind a line where we would be able to give watermelon to the elephants. We were told that because some elephants can get extra aggressive during feeding time, it was best to stay behind the line, which was protected by a gate. Waiting with pieces of watermelon in my hand, little did I know how overwhelmed I would become in seeing a family of elephants marching their way through the valley to the barriers to be fed. It was absolutely adorable! It was also hilarious to pick up on the odd habits of some of the elephants. For example, one elephant refused to eat the watermelon unless it was handed in a certain direction. Otherwise, it would purposefully drop it straight to the floor.
Next step, meeting the elephants up close and personal. What is the likelihood of coming across an elephant sharing your same injury: a fractured clavicle? The two elephants we got to pet and caress, had injuries. Quite intimidated, I aired on the side of caution when handling the elephants. However, I managed to get some dope pictures and snap some angled selfies with my "elephomies." Walking alongside these massive, majestic creatures just brings a new perspective to life!
From there, we headed to lunch. The unique part is that all the food is vegetarian, just like the elephants. Not being a vegetarian, I found the array of options plentiful and impressive. I did not leave the place hungry, that is for sure! There was soup, rice, several types of noodles, fresh fruit- YUM!
The biggest highlight occurred after lunch, and that was getting to bathe the elephants in the river! Although the river is probably not the cleanest, it is the best you come across in the sense that you are able to walk into the river with sandals. Bathing them up close, you truly get to see how MASSIVE an elephant, when compared to humans.
Coming from the elephant sanctuary had me in my feels about the protection they deserve. As a result, when we were given the option to ride an elephant, the juxtaposition of experiences evoked anger. The place we stopped, which was fairly close by, had elephants who looked unhappy --frail, dry-skinned, in chains and being whipped. LITERALLY the opposite. Most people on our tour had a good conscience and could not bring themselves to ride the elephant. However, there was a large, white family who did not give two craps and went elephant riding anyway. How can one do that, truly beats me! We learned that riding an elephant has a negative permanent effect on their spines, which affect their posture. Their backs become more like a hunchback, causing their heads to bend lower than normal. I will admit I that rode an elephant, once in India, but I was not aware of these effects.
I cannot stress enough the importance of this experience to my perspective on all of the animals we ride, particularly elephants. This experience helped me learn that being woke is not enough. One must take action and protect thy elephants.