Wednesday, December 19, 2012

ENP in B&W

There's something about these elephants, especially when they're wet, that I just love in black and white...

Elephant Nature Park, Part II

We woke up in the morning excited about spending more time with the beloved elephants.  A side benefit was the fact that the food at this place was incredible, and breakfast was no exception--a long buffet of Thai dishes, the kind of buffet where your plate grows to gargantuan proportions because as you move along you happen upon things you just can't refuse.

The day was also special because it was Alex's 8th birthday, celebrated with a cake the park had prepared.

Sam was interested in hanging out with one of the mahouts and arranged a time in the morning to sit and watch him carve.  As a thank you, he drew a picture of baby Navann and his mother as a gift.  It amazes me that he can take two moving targets and come up with this likeness as a result.  My attempt would have resulted in a stick figure elephant that more resembled a beach ball impaled by 5 toothpicks.

We were able to spend time with the veterinarian who was treating a chronic infection in one of the elephants, whose injured leg caused her to get abcesses in her cheek and shoulder from lying down.  Rather than a dainty syringe, medicine is administered in huge pumping spray bottles like you'd see an exterminator use.  Here, the vet has just pumped her wound full of an antibacterial liquid and is pressing on it to flush out excess medicine and pus.

The most incredible part of the two days was arming ourselves with bunches of bananas and walking around the grounds, spending time with and learning about the different family groups.  Despite their difficult pasts, these creatures exude such a gentle demeanor that is captivating to witness firsthand.

Not separated by a railing...

...not standing on a wooden platform...

...and not near a building.

The sanctuary is also home to water buffalo... well as hundreds of dogs who were displaced during the recent floods.  A few of the dogs followed us around the property, remarkably fearless of their much larger pachyderm companions.

As soon as my winning lottery numbers are drawn, I'll be booking a weeklong volunteer experience at the Elephant Nature Park for my family and friends.  I'm counting the minutes until then.

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.