One day a 15 year old girl heard an odd sound up in the mountain, a scream. She asked one of the farmers what the sound was, he explained it was the elephant. She then asked if he could take her there, what she saw that day changed everything. The sight was of an elephant logging a heavy branch, screaming in pain. Whenever the elephant fell down, the mahout would hit him in the head causing more pain. She could see the pain in his eyes, and since that day she promised herself she would save one elephant. 20 years later and there are over 70 elephants, 200 cats, 450 dogs, buffalos and monkeys. All rescued from tourism industry, circus, street begging, the slaughterhouse and from the streets. The work Lek, her husband Derek and the team does, is truly a hero’s work. I am honoured to have been a part this amazing journey. This week has been a life changing experience, and I would recommend this for everyone.
The park is huge with lots of space for the elephants to roam freely, green lush mountains surrounding the sanctuary. Elephants, dogs and buffalos all live in harmony. As you walk around the park, you will see elephants bathing in the river with their families, eating delicious bananas, pumpkins, bamboo leaves and watermelons. Some elephants roll in the mud pit, feeling the soft texture of mud against their skin, giving a protective layer against the sun. Elephants in this sanctuary get to spend the rest of their lives together with their families, loved ones and their bestfriend. Even after coming here life isn’t a stroll through the park. Many of the elephants that come here doesn’t show visible scars. Many of the elephants have mental health problems caused by torture and isolation, by the hand of humans. All for one reason, for human entertainment. What most people don’t know, is how badly these majestic creatures are treated. I knew they were treated badly, but I had no idea what really goes on behind closed doors. After everything I have learned, I feel it’s my duty to pass on the information to help prevent others from participating in this cruel industry.
On the first and second day, Lek and the guides showed us a investigation video to reveal the truth. What we saw was elephants being beaten with a bull hook, repeatedly on the head, on the sides. Mahouts sharpened their nails to dig into their ear to make them obey and move in a certain direction, like to paint a picture with their trunk. The ear of an elephant is very sensitive with lots of nerves causing extreme pain. When the elephant is a baby, it is taken from the mother to start the training, of breaking their spirits. To capture the baby the hunters kill the mother and the nanny, often starting a fire in the forest to lure the baby into a trap. Many baby elephants die from the fall, I would say they are the lucky ones, as the ones that survive is facing a very dark future. To break an elephants spirit, mahouts will use a method called Pajaan. They tie up every part of the elephant to logs or to a tree, the legs, the trunk, the tail, the head, the body leaving it unable to move, sit, lay down or rest. All this while beating them repeatedly to make it afraid of the bullhook, ready to follow command. The mahout will always have the bullhook in plain sight, so the elephant will know what will happen if it don’t obey. Elephants are forced to trek with humans on their back, even though they are far from strong enough to carry 500kgs on their backs for 8-12 hours daily. The elephants are chained up not being able to move, waving their heads back and forth in distress. Isolated from families causing mental health problems like depression, anxiety and loneliness. Forced to live on the streets to beg for food so their mahout can make a couple of bucks. When they faint from exhaustion they will be hit and jabbed in the sides with a bullhook, until they get back up. No regards to the strong lighting blending their eyes, often making them blind. No regards to the unnatural environment with sounds, cars, smells and buildings. All the terrible things these beautiful babies go through because of us, because of ignorance, lack of knowledge. Because we use things, we use each other, we use animals for our entertainment, not giving an extra thought of what the consequences of our action are. These animals suffer for the sake of a picture, an experience, a memory. How much longer are we gonna allow the pain and suffering of another earthling continue, for our entertainment? How much longer can we justify our actions knowing deep down in our hearts, that this is wrong? I say that it’s about damn time we learn to share this world.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I came here, what kind of work we would be doing etc. We were three different groups with 4 different guides, Wat, Johnny, Mix and Baz. I was in group A, and I can honestly say I have never in my life had so much fun scooping poop. Our work chores consisted of cleaning elephant inclosure, preparing food, bathing the elephants, feeding them bananas, cleaning up the park, planting trees, decorating the inclosure and cutting bamboo trees. Each day consisted of two different jobs. One starting 8.00 am and the next 1.00pm. We would wake up at around 6.30 am, breakfast starting at 7.00 am and first work starting 8.00 am. Each day there is a different task, usually heavier work in the morning, and lighter work in the afternoon. The two first days my muscles were pretty sore, but a little thai massage helped loosen up the tension in my back. Yes you can get a Thai massage with a beautiful view! You get 3 meals per day being all vegan/vegetarian food. I have never seen so much delicious vegan food in my life. Me being a vegetarian this was truly heaven. There was so much to choose between, curry, rice, noodles, fresh salads, fresh fruit and desert. Eat your heart out! Also one of the amazing things you get to experience, is seeing elephants walk casually by while you eat breakfast and lunch!
(pictures taken by Jitske Glorie)
On the Friday there is an excursion trip to a local school. As you can see in the picture below I made a friend pretty quickly. This little girl dragged me around to show me her classroom, where I got to teach english to some very shy kids (shy as in I can speak thai, therefore they didn’t want to talk english with me). There were traditional thai dancing, foot massages, kids making bracelet, icecreams. It was such a fun day! I wish we could’ve stayed longer than 1 hour, but the kids did have to go back to learning. Also I did buy a bunch of bracelets to support the local community, it’s a nice souvenir to keep from these adorable kids!
One thing to remember, this isn’t a place where you ride elephants, or can run up and do whatever you want. No, this is a sanctuary where elephants decide who they want to be with. Each elephant has a mahout, and the elephant is the one that chooses the mahout. We were not allowed to walk alone in the park without the company of a guide. You never know what the elephants have been through, and it’s for your own safety. Also we are not allowed to touch the elephant except when you’re feeding them bananas. So whenever a baby would come up you would have to move, as they don’t know their own strength and might hurt you. On the last day I joined two other girls to walk around the park. We we’re accompanied by our guide Baz. We ended up at the end of the park where there where two large families living together, where we met Derek, Lek’s husband. It was so amazing to see the elephants interact with him. As you can see in the picture, this girl ran up to him, wrapped her trunk around his arm and pulled him with her. Derek and Lek is probably the only ones that have this connection with the elephants. This time we didn’t have to move, the elephants came up close, like I’ve never experienced before. I will never forget one elephant named Manao, which means Lemon. She came up to us, standing right in front of me, and she just stared me deep in the eyes. She had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen, so bright and blue. I fell in love right then and there, and it pained me to think about all the abuse she had endured in her past.
This week truly was one of the best, most unforgettable moments in my life. I’ve never had so much fun, being surrounded by so many great people. As I mentioned in the beginning of my post, the sanctuary is also home for many other animals. There is also a weekly program with dogs. In between jobs we would run up to the dog park to socialise, walk the dogs and just give our love and cuddles to these fur babies. I might go back in august to spend my birthday working with these puppers!
(Photo taken by Jitske Glorie)
(Mix, Baz, me, Wat and Johnny)
This is once in a lifetime experience, and I would highly recommend anyone to come here. Here you will truly interact with the animals in a way that is both humane and enjoyable for all parties involved. You will leave with friends from all around the world, memories to last you a life time, a new profound knowledge and last but not least a proud sense of accomplishment. And remember, whenever you spend money to interact with wild animals, that be elephants, tigers, lions, iguanas, monkeys you name it, where you can pet or ride them to take a picture, there most definitely will be animal abuse involved. Real sanctuaries don’t let you ride elephants! The money you spend here goes toward buying food for the animals, and helping these people help the animals. Help me help them, you will not regret it!:) You can read more about elephant nature park here