So I’m just gonna put it right out there — we petted elephants and we liked it. A whole bunch. I’m sure I spent most of the day talking about two octaves above where I normally do. That is, when I wasn’t worried that an elephant would step on me. I probably devoted about 5 full waking hours of my life actively worrying that I was going to have an elephant step on me and squish my foot. There were children running around this place and 30-year-old-me was nervous about having a cartoonish pancake foot. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME.
We made reservations online with Elephant Nature Park after researching where the most humane elephant sights might be seen in Chiang Mai. There are loads of places where they do tricks and see shows and I had the feeling that might rub us the wrong way and also — Trip Advisor said to go so we had to. No choice. Also, we didn’t want to spend $500 which would have been easy. For a 5,000 Thai baht total (~$160 USD) donation to the reserve, we had a pass for a day which included transport, lunch, and countless photo ops.
(it should not surprise you that our camera died about 2/3 of the way through the day, then, as Murphy’s law would dictate)
We were picked up at 8:30 am and in an hour were at the Park. We were shown both a safety video in the bus as well as a short documentary about the park’s work. The safety video told us to be ready to run at a moment’s notice. I wondered how I would run with flat, pancake foot. I could hop?
When we arrived we got right down to feeding the elephants lunch from the safety of a raised platform. Lunch was bunches of bananas, watermelon and pineapple. I forgot about my future calamity and shamelessly elbowed people out of the way to feed the youngest elephant who was about four years old. Elephants feel strange — their hair is long and bristly. Their skin is one inch thick and boy does it feel that way. Their eyes are kind and understanding. I began to think, maybe, no elephant would WANT to step on my foot.
Then, we went to go meet NaVann — the 3 month-old-baby elephant and used
both functional feet to run ahead. I quickly forsake the bond I felt earlier with the four-year-old I had fed and promptly (sorry, Mom) LOST. MY. SHIT. No nicer way to describe it. Apparently everyone regresses to the point that they have to remind people to follow a good kindergarten rule and keep their hands to themselves as seen by the signs they had up. I WISH I COULD HAVE PET HIM. IT WOULD HAVE GIVEN ME IMMENSE PLEASURE, INDEED.
If meeting the baby elephant was the sword in my side, it was twisted by seeing all of the elephants who were injured in the park. Many were blind — all the flashing lights from working the tourist circuit left many of them with cataracts. Some had broken hips leaving them limping for the rest of their lives due to cruel
breeding practices. Some were robbed of their tusks and had mouth injuries. But you have to think that they are at least somewhere happy and comfortable and are able to roam mostly free with their ele-phriends so perhaps not so bad.
After I returned to earth, we ate a delicious vegetarian lunch ourselves and then it was bath time. We walked with the elephants down to the river and tossed water on them with buckets and rubbed the mud off them. This was where I was like “HERE IT COMES, PANCAKE FOOT!” but — shocker — I still have them both.
After we fed them again and took 400 pictures (well, 23 and then the camera died) we learned about Thailand’s delicate history with its national animal. In Thailand, using elephants for logging was banned in 1989, and left many
elephants out of work. Their masters (elephants are incredibly intelligent and emotionally intuitive) needed them to make money so many turned to tourism. Elephants live nearly as long as humans do (around 70 years) so It’s a vicious cycle for domesticated elephants — tourism keeps them from being abandoned, but tourism keeps up the demand for more to be bred for cruel practices. You’d never know that so many elephants are suffering by the sheer number of elephant crap hanging around this country. It’s like a bald eagle + the baby Jesus they are so revered. Later, in Chiang Rai, we saw elephants walking down the street “begging” with their owners and that made me wimper into my dinner. So now I’m some sort of animal person? WHAT? Twenty years ago or so there were 100,000 elephants in the wild and now there are barely 15,000. The government only protects those wild elephants but those who have been forcibly domesticated or born into captivity have the same rights as the delicious pig (yummy! porky!) we ate for dinner with rice. Then we saw how poachers steal elephants and inhumanely tame by physically abus
ing them which was really difficult to watch. Then we were thanked for our donation which helps them buy more elephants to save them and have them enjoy retirement. That made me want to give more and…. OH. I SEE WHAT THEY’VE DONE THERE. USED MY OWN TRICKS AGAINST MYSELF.
(ps you can donate here: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/howyoucanhelp.htm)
All of our pictures can be found on our flickr page–go and have a look. Yes, there are a disproportionately high number of the baby. Whatever.