For my birthday Ryan surprised me with a day with elephants up in the forested mountains of northern Thailand. I was in for a real treat.
We were transported in a minibus about 25 miles outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand’s culture capital and our home base in northern Thailand, to the Elephant Nature Park. The park is home to a unique conservation project established in the 1990′s, offering a sanctuary for abused and abandoned elephants.
A little background on the situation here…For centuries elephants have been an important part of Thai culture. They’ve served as a means of transport for royalty and soldiers in war and played a key role in Thailand’s logging industry. When logging was outlawed in Thailand in the 1990′s, many of the elephants went abandoned, while others were sold into a life of begging. It’s not uncommon to see elephants in the middle of traffic on the streets of massive cities, being paraded around to tourists for money. Others were taken into the tourism industry where they are touted for elephant rides. While this might sound like an appealing adventure, we learned in most of these cases the elephants suffer a great deal of abuse and poor living conditions.
The park is home to 34 rescued elephants and gave us an intimate look at these gentle giants. We spent our day volunteering here and got to know the background on a lot of the rescued elephants. One was blinded in both eyes by a previous owner with a bamboo stick and another lost its foot in a landmine accident. Feeding, bathing and caring for the beasts of burden, you couldn’t help but be moved by their stories and this unique experience. Check out the video above for scenes from our day.