Elephants are incredible animals.
They’re highly intelligent, extremely community-oriented (most live in family-based herds), and exhibit empathy and altruism. They’ll come to the aid of elephants they don’t know, other animals, and even humans in distress. They are also one of the only species on earth that has a recognizable ritual around death.
Elephants are revered in Thailand, but unfortunately that reverence hasn’t translated into widespread protection or conservation efforts.
Although they were traditionally used in Thailand’s logging industry, the majority of elephants now work to entertain tourists. Elephant treks, painting demonstrations, and feeding sessions on the streets of Bangkok are popular tourist activities in Thailand; regrettably, the elephants are subjected to harsh – and often cruel – conditions to generate money for the local economy.
There are some conservation efforts in Thailand, though, perhaps most famously the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Lek, the founder and owner, has rescued dozens of injured and mistreated elephants since creating the sanctuary in the 1990′s.
If you want to interact with elephants on your trip to Thailand, but you’re concerned about doing so in a way that supports responsible tourism, then the Elephant Nature Park is probably your best bet.
We’ll write more about our time there in a later post, but for now I wanted to share some of the photos we captured. Enjoy!
Most of the elephants at the Elephant Nature Park are paired with a mahout (or elephant trainer), who makes sure they’re happy and well cared for.
Volunteers regularly feed elephants from this platform, so this hungry elephant is trying to rustle up a snack.
This mahout carves small wooden elephant figurines while he travels with his elephant charge around the sanctuary.
Elephants sense the world through vibrations they pick up from their feet. For elephants forced to beg on the streets of large cities, the sensory overload from passing cars and trucks is extremely disorienting.
Every day around 1 PM the elephants head to the river for a bath. Some of the elephants are assisted by volunteers, while others play in the water with their herd or their individual mahouts.
After the river, they race to the mudpit to apply a layer of natural sunscreen.
Which is hard work, of course, so maybe it’s time for a nap?
An elephant can lift up to 100 kg with its trunk. Amazingly, it can also pick up a single blade of grass.
This elephant and her mahout play a game while they wait in the medical clinic to get an infected foot abscess treated. The second elephant is her BFF; they go everywhere together, so of course she tagged along for moral support.