Today I took a bus with about 12 other people to visit the Elephant Nature Preserve about an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai. I’m not usually much of a “tour” person, but this is the only way to visit this special place.
When I first began planning my trip, I thought about going to one of the many tourist elephant camps advertised, but the more I read and the more I learned, the more I realized that these places, in general are not about the animals, but about the tourists. The Elephant Nature Preserve is different.
In Thailand, there are two kinds of elephants, wild elephants and domestic (not domesticated). The domestic elephants have been broken to work for people. Until the late 1980’s they were used in the logging industry, but when logging was banned these elephants were either abandoned, because the owners couldn’t afford to feed them, or put to work in the tourist industry (rides, circuses, etc) or even used to panhandle in the streets of Bangkok.
The elephants at the Elephant Nature Preserve have been rescued from many horrific situations, many were abused, hit by cars in Bankkok, some stepped on land mines on the Thai border with Myanmar, and other stories too sad to tell. At the preserve, they are rehabilitated, paired with a Mahout (handler) who is with them all day, every day. They are incredibly docile, smart and sweet creatures.
At the preserve, I was able to feed, walk with them, bath them and be with them in the closest many of them will ever know to a natural environment.
The money used from visitors like me is used to provide food, shelter and medical care. In 1900 there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand, today there are fewer than 3,000. It was a sobering, gratifying and amazing day.
More information at savetheelephants.org.