Monday, December 17, 2012

Elephant Nature Park, Part 1

I'll conservatively estimate that there are 65,387 elephant parks in Thailand.  When I was planning our trip, I spent a gross fair amount of time, possibly in lieu of cleaning our flat, looking into the different parks.  We knew we wanted to get as up close and personal as we could, and the vast majority of parks include a ride on an elephant.  The more I looked into it, though, my search narrowed and I to spend our time at a park where the elephants were treated wonderfully.

When I saw the volunteer program at the Elephant Nature Park, my search ended.  We wanted to do the full week volunteer program, but the required Monday start didn't work out for the days we'd be in the country so we settled on the 2-day experience.

We were picked up from our guesthouse in the morning and watched a video about the park and Lek, the amazing woman who runs the place.  The park is a sanctuary for elephants who have rescued from various forms of abuse--logging, street begging, trekking, land mine victim...I was teary-eyed watching the video and  figured I'd be a wreck for the next two days.

The stories of these elephants and how they've come together to form 5 family groups within the park are overwhelming and heartwarming.  I'll share one, but please visit the park someday and learn the rest on your own.

Jokia, while pregnant, worked in the logging industry in a village near the Burma border.  She birthed her baby while working on a steep hill and the baby died after falling down the hill with Jokia unable to rescue her.  Afterwards, Jokia refused to work and her owners repeatedly poked at her eyes with sticks, eventually leaving her blind.

After many attempts, Lek was able to buy Jokia and bring her to the park where she could bathe in the river and enjoy her life.  Mae Perm, the nana elephant of the park, took Jokia under her wing and the two are always together, with Mae Perm acting as Jokia's eyes.

We began by feeding the elephants; because they are vegetarians, they spend up to 18 hours a day eating so there were always opportunities to reach into a basket and offer something to an outstretched trunk.

We were fortunate enough to visit just 6 weeks after the surprise birth of baby Navann, an adorable elephant whose mum is recovering from a land mine injury to her foot.  Because of her injury, she is contained in an enclosure so they can control the infection to the wound.

Navann with his mahout (elephant caretaker)

Somehow, all the mahouts are artistic and they carve as they sit with the elephants.

In the afternoon, we went down to the river to bathe the elephants.

The kids had an absolute ball, although kids+river+buckets=heaven so I think they could have been throwing buckets of water at a cement post and had almost as much fun.

We found flat rocks we could use to scrub their coarse skin.

It's difficult to put into words what this was like.  All of us were in awe, all day, of these beautiful creatures, their incredibly gentle nature...

...and of their good fortune in being saved by Lek and living on this grand property.

In the evening, we had a Thai massage.  I honestly am gobsmacked that I spend more for a cup of coffee in my normal life than the 30 minute experience I had here.  Jackson and Alex had their first massages--Jackson said the bum massage made him a little nervous but he figured they wouldn't do anything inappropriate. Ha!

The accomodation was simple but lovely, and we went to bed excited for what the next day held in store.


  1. Absolutely incredible! I'm going to put this on our Must See/Do List!

  2. Oh Jackson, ahah. Looks like heaps of funn--it feels so weird not being clean to text you and ask if u want to do something outside. :( miss you guys

  3. Absolutely wonderful account! Thanks for sharing. We hope you stay in touch with Lek and stay up to date with all of her projects, including Elephant Nature Park, with Save Elephant Foundation.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing!!!