Chang in Thailand is the name of a beer and most tourists naturally assume that’s all it means, but chang is the word for elephant. I had the pleasure of spending my last sunday in northern Thailand with these gentle giants.
My friend Kenny came to visit for the weekend. He plays rugby and goes back and forth between Australia and the Philippines. When his tour was canceled he booked a quick flight to Thailand for a visit. I had the perfect plan- play with elephants!
I’ve wanted to see these majestic animals up close since the day I stepped foot in Thailand. There a number of places to choose from but none of them enticed me until I found the Elephant Nature Park. No elephant show. No elephant riding. You’re probably wondering what I did then, and why I wouldn’t want to see a show where elephants do tricks and have the chance to ride them through the jungles of Thailand.
Here’s why…one night I was bored and out of curiosity I decided to watch the movie earthlings. After watching the film I had a whole new outlook on tourist traps that use animals to make profits. I was disturbed and upset, and since them I’ve made the conscious promise to avoid supporting places such as these… as well as eating fish. Want to become a veg? Watch this movie. Here is the trailer.
Back to the elephants. I can’t express the joy and peace I felt being at the Park. The park was started by a little Thai lady named Lek. She works to rehabilitate elephants that have been subject to abuse at the hands of humans. Most, if not all, of the elephants at the park are blind in one eye, both eyes, have broken hips, or broken legs. Two have stepped on land mines. Some have had their tusks sawed off.
Traditional mahouts use sticks with sharp nails or hooks on the end to control the elephant. These mahouts at the Elephant Nature Park simply give the elephants a gentle push. The elephants are free to roam and have daily visits to the attending veterinarian, Dr. P, for medicine and check-ups. A lot of the elephants have eye infections and Dr. P, as well as many volunteers, work to get these big boys well.
They are beautiful, stunning animals and I was able to feed them, bathe them, and even get a few kisses from one! The day was informative and at times very sad, but I won’t go into details as to how these animals are ‘domesticated’ and how their spirit and independence is taken away at such a young age.
My favorite elephant is Jokia. Jokia is blind in both eyes so to feed her we needed to tap her trunk with the food. Jokia lost her baby and refused to work so her owner used a sling shot and blinded her in one eye. When, again sometime later, she was not cooperating the way her mahout wanted her too she was stabbed in the other eye. But to me, she is the most beautiful elephant at the park, and I understand why Lek wanted to save her.