Elephant Nature Park – one week as a volunteer

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Monday morning I was picked up to go to Elephant nature park. I like the way you are picked up whatever you are doing, just tell them where you live, and you will get whereever you are supposed to in some way. After picking up more people around the city we went to the main office for registration and to pay and get tshirts. Like everywhere else things looked pretty unorganized, we signed on four different lists to four different people, and when we asked when we where leaving the office none of them had an idea. Soon was the answer. And this time we were off pretty soon and on the way to the park in minibuses.

Elephant Nature Park is situated in Mae Tang Valley, about 60 kilometres north of Chiang Mai. The elephants in the park are encouraged to live as natural life as possible, only eat, sleep and play. All the elephants are rescued from different places where they didn´t have a good life, mostly from logging, trekking or street begging. Most of them have a traumatic past, and are off course not able to live as the wild elephants. Each of them have their own mahout who follows the elephant all day, since there is so may elephants in a limited area and a lot of people around they have to be controlled in some point. The difference is that they are controlled without the hook, only by orders. All elephants in captivitay usually have to go trough a ceremony called the Phajaan.  Elephants between the age of 3 to 6 years are forced into a cage that barely fits their bodies and are chained in place. They are deprived of food, water and sleep and are poked and proded with bamboo sticks with nails imbedded in the end, knives and are also shot with stones and other projectiles. This is meant to “break the spirit of the elephant”; watching parts of this process certainly breaks the spirit of humanity.  The torture is endured by the elephant for usually a week, but some times up to 2 weeks, until the shaman senses that the spirit has been changed. After Phajaan the elephants endure more horrifying torture when they are trained for different use in shows, trekking or for other purposes. One of the goals of the park is to avoid that the elephants have to go through this, and they train their babies by positive reinforcement training and learn the elephants the same commands that they will learn other places. By this they hope that people working with the elephants will see that it is possible to train an elephant without torturing them.

As a volunteer in the park we are encouraged to learn about the asian elephant, to take time to just observe them, and to help out with all the work at the camp to make a suitable place for the animals to live. There are 32 elephants living in the park, most of them is owned by the park so they can stay there forever, some of them are leased to have some time off work so to recover from bad condition or fro giving birth and let the baby have a healthy childhood. There are also cows, water buffalos, about 50 dogs and 20 cats, all rescued from different places, or left at the camp to have a better life. Besides rescuing elephants Lek, who runs the park, also work with lobbying the government and educate the public hoping that other people will start treating the animals better. The park is open for day visitors, and it gives kind of a commercial impression with all the people visiting to see the park, feed the elephants and bath with them – but it raises a lot of money for a really good cause. I´m glad I stayed for a week as a volunteer so I could see a lot of the camp, talk to the people who work there, and really have the time to observe the elephants and experience the good atmosphere in the park. The area is beautiful, I met a lot of great people, I loved to learn about all the elephants and to observe them walking around eating all the time, cuddle the cats and the dogs, and I had a fabulous week!

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