A couple of days ago we went to go and visit the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai. Whilst we researched the park as well as we could – finding one that did not punish the elephants or allow riding on them we still didn’t know what we were going to encounter. I’m pleased to say that for the most part I think the sanctuary was run well and the elephants seemed to be getting a good level of treatment there. Almost all of them were disabled in some way – many were blind from mistreatment or repeated camera flashes to the eyes, even more had dislocated hips from logging and injured legs from being hit by trucks after begging on the street or stepping on land mines. For the most part you just follow a route around the park, stopping at various stations to watch them, or feeding them from a platform or throwing buckets of water at them. They apparently are able to move around the park where they want to but in reality I think their movements are quite guided by their mahouts. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was how much the elephants really liked being touched, they seemed to be merely tolerating it for food rewards. They certainly didn’t like me in a wheelchair being too close to them although were still more than happy to take food off me! Of course though, without the income from tourism these elephants would not be receiving the care and medical treatment they need so maybe it’s a necessary evil.
I have to say, wheeling in to a river to bath a disabled elephant with a tiny bucket is something I never thought I’d get to say I’d do. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.