Thursday, December 6, 2012


About an hour north of Chiang Mai, past the bustle of the city and the suburbs, through lush farmland and into the jungly mountains, lies paradise. Elephant paradise. The elephants that live at the Elephant Nature Park can roam free, and eat bananas and watermelons to their hearts content. But their lives weren't always this way. For each of the 34 elephants at the ENP, there is a gut-wrenching story of suffering. Most were terribly abused working elephants in the logging industry; or abandoned elephants after logging was made illegal. Others were made to beg on the city streets. There are even a few landmine victims. Some are blind from work-related accidents or abuse.

One elephant gave birth while hauling logs, and wasn't allowed to go to her newborn's rescue when it tumbled down a hill. Her baby died, and when she refused to work, they stabbed her eyes to force her to work again. 

Every elephant was forced to do things that no elephant should ever have to do. And to get them to become obedient elephants, willing to be ridden, work, or stand on their front legs, every elephant had to suffer through the ancient 'spirit breaking' ceremony called a phajaan. Also called "The Crush", the elephant is weaned forcibly from it's mother, forced into a tight cage-like contraption where it is stabbed and beaten into submission. This lasts for days. Then of course the difficult training that comes after is far from brutal. Think about that, the next time you want to ride an elephant.

At the ENP, each elephant has their own mahout to look after them, access to medicine, a river to play in, plentiful food, and plenty of volunteers and daytrippers to feed it to them. We had the most amazing experience with these beautiful, gentle giants. We got to walk right around with them, and there were many occasions where we'd be standing admiring one elephant, and didn't realize there was another one coming right up beside us!

It was awesome to see the connection between each mahout and his elephant, and the bonds between the elephants. There was even a month-old baby elephant!

There were many opportunities to feed them, since they spend about 18 hours a day eating! Each elephant eats about 10% of their body weight daily. We were shown the store room with all the fruits and veggies, and it is massive! We watched one elephant sneak a whole pumpkin, then with one little step, crushed it under it's foot to break it into smaller pieces. 

Then we got to splash around in the river with them. It wasn't so much about making them clean as to cool them off, because promptly after bathing, they coated themselves in mud to keep cool.

It was absolutely amazing watching them, being able to touch their thick, bristly skin, and having such a close encounter with them. If you find yourself in Chiang Mai, I cannot recommend a visit highly enough. Or, even better, live with the elephants for a week as a volunteer!

This is about two days worth of bananas...


  1. What a sad story. But thank god for places like the ENP. Love these shots!

    k xo

  2. I love that last photo. What an amazing experience. Hopefully one day my boys and I can do this.

  3. The pictures are so great! I love your hats ;)

    It is now on my life to do list to go volunteer for these elephants! So happy these people have stepped up, so sad that they had to.