Saturday, 26 January 2013

Day Nine - Elephant Nature Park

After the tremendous response to her first article, we welcome back guest blogger Maggie Simpson, who writes about a trip to the Elephant Nature Park at Chiang Mai.

Elephants in Thailand have a precarious existence in the 21st Century.  Those still living in the wild are losing their natural habitat, due to deforestation, mainly to make more land for crops.  'Domesticated' elephants are hardly better off.  Elephants are classed as livestock and have no protection under the law.  They are taken from their mothers at a very young age and put through a process called the 'pajaan', to make them submissive and obedient to commands.  This is a very cruel and distressing process which can, if you wish, be viewed on a campaigner's YouTube video here but, in all honesty and if you are at all faint-hearted, I would not recommend watching it, having viewed it myself during a trip we made earlier today.

In the past, these elephants were used mainly in the logging industry, but logging is now banned.  Their owners cannot afford to feed them if they are not bringing in an income.  Some are sold, others simply abandoned.  From a population of over 100,000 in Thailand at the start of the 20th century, elephants now number fewer than 5000. Some have found work in elephant safari camps, which can now be found all over Thailand, and are a major tourist attraction.  Some of them are excellent, treat the animals well, and entertain and inform the public.  Others less so.  Other elephants are used on the streets of Bangkok and other major tourist areas for begging and to sell trinkets and other goods to members of the public.  Even if and when they are well treated, this is an unnatural and unhealthy way for them to live.  We were alerted to the varying nature of elephant camps by an article of Trip Advisor, recommending the Elephant Nature Park, near Chiang Mai.

The park and its charitable foundation were set up by Sangduen Chailert, known locally as Lek (Thai for "Tich" or "Shorty") and her husband Adam Flinn. Visiting the park costs a bit more than the competition but all the money taken is used to look after the elephants, as well as dogs and cats rescued from city streets.

The elephants are not asked to do any tricks, or even carry people on their backs.  They are persuaded by food, one of their main occupations, to let the public feed them, and also wash them in the river.  They are very gentle and will let you walk among them quite happily.  They each have their own 'mahout', or driver, charged with their personal care and well being.  This is a very close, and in this case, affectionate relationship.

After feeding time, we walked across the park to meet with Jokia, an elderly female elephant, who was deliberately blinded by her owner, and her best friend Mae Perm, who acts as her eyes as she leads Jokia around the park and forests.

 Elephants have a gestation period of 2 years.  This baby elephant is just 2 months old.  When its mother was rescued, they didn't know that she was pregnant.  Her 'mahout', came to feed her one morning and found her with the baby.

A logging accident left Medo badly lamed. In order to make some income from her, 
her owners tried to mate her with an agressive bull elephant, which attacked her and
injured her spine.  These days, she enjoys being bathed by visiting tourists.

We left, feeling privileged to have spent time with the elephants and full of admiration for Lek's work. Later we heard that the park's management were being harassed by local government officials, the story of which is explained at greater length in the petition site given below.  We signed and we very  much hope you can give a few minutes to read the story and sign the petition.

Jokia enjoying a morning break.
Two of the lucky ones - rescue cats

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