A new life for elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The world's environmental and social awareness is growing and as a traveler you have more options than ever to travel responsible.  After seeing the effects of bad tourism, Beau and I make a conscience effort to support stores, restaurants, tour operators, and hotels that give back to the community or make an effort to be green.  So when we first arrived in Thailand a friend of ours, Jutta, mentioned not to support the urban elephants.   After some research on the subject, we figured out that elephants are being brought into the city, mostly tourist areas, so the trainers can sell tourist bags of food for the elephant to eat.  Most of the elephants are babies that have been malnourished so people want to feed them and help them.  The baby elephants rock back and forth trying to comfort themselves because they are terrified by the horns and vibrations that they are feeling through there feet.  So generally after this kind of knowledge we wanted to find a way to help the elephants.  With the help of our little hotel and the world wide web, we came across a rescue center for abused elephants called Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. The sanctuary was started in 1990's  and is run by a brave little pint size Thai woman, named Lek. Chiang Mai - Elephant Nature Park with Lek   Chiang Mai - Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai - Observation deck at Elephant Nature Park 
Elephant Nature Park currently has an elephant population of over 34 beautiful elephants and growing.  They have also just acquired more land for their growing herd called the Elephant Haven.  We visited the sanctuary on a day trip but you can stay there and volunteer for up to 4 weeks.  I have to say after meeting these magnificent elephants, their mahouts (trainers), and the guides, I was trying to figure out if we could stay for a few weeks.  Chiang Mai - River at Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai - Elephant at Elephant Nature Park 
Chiang Mai - Elephant close up
Chiang Mai - Lek with Elephant  Chiang Mai - Elephant looking for attention from Lek
Lek, the director, rescues elephants from abusive tourist attractions, the streets,
logging camps, and babies that have lost their moms.  Lek also provides
medicine to sick elephants in villages and tries to teach villages that
there is a different way for mahout to bond with their elephant. The mahouts at the sanctuary do not use chains, rods with sharp pokers and sticks to beat the elephants to submission.  Instead they to build their bond the same way you would raise your child… with love!  Being there you can see the strength of their bond and know that kindness not fear is the way to build their relationship! Chiang Mai - Mahout at Elephant Nature Park  Chiang Mai - Mahout and Elephant waiting for feeding time
Chiang Mai - Elephant picking up his leftovers Chiang Mai - Elephants eat a lot of bananas and like it!   Chiang Mai - Elephants heading to the river
Chiang Mai - Bath time Chiang Mai - The baby elephants get their bath
Chiang Mai - Ok I'm done said the elephant
Chiang Mai - are you following me? said the elephant
Each mahout stay with their bonded elephant all day and they teach the volunteers and day-visitors how to feed the elephants and bath them in the river.  I was amazed and excited by how involved the sanctuary lets you get with these beautiful and incredible large animals.  Being this up close for even one day you start to see the different personalities of each elephant.  The guides at the sanctuary also tell you the sad history of each elephant.  By the time you leave, all the tourist in your van are sharing their amazing experiences from their time the Elephant Nature Park and their sadness to leave these incredible gentle giants. Chiang Mai - M and friend bathing the elephants
Chiang Mai - Wash down for the elephants
Chiang Mai - B's bath time with the elephants
Chiang Mai - M favorite elephant
Chiang Mai - Our new elephant friend. protect me!

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5 Responses to A new life for elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

  1. anahi says:

    hey guys ! this has to be one of my favorite posts, the images tell the story in such a beautiful way. What a great experience, thanks for sharing !

  2. Stunning photos & great post altogether, Elephant Nature Park is a very special project!!.
    Kind Regards

  3. Amy says:

    I am always delighted to hear accounts of educated travelers who forego the typical tourist route in Thailand and instead visit ENP. Lek is truly a hero, defying even death threats to pursue her work!
    And thank you for the magnificent images! I’ve seen many photos of ENP but these are the first in b & w.

  4. David b appleton says:

    i visited your rescue centre a few years ago and had the time of my life. thanks for that is it possible to spend a week at the center? if so would you please tell me what that week would cost? looking forward to your reply