Volunteering at Elephant Nature Park
There are many elephant interaction opportunities in Thailand, many of which include elephant riding. Some of these tourist organizations are focused on providing the best life possible for the captive elephant, but more often than not these tour agencies are exploiting the elephant for their own personal gain. There are several abused elephants that are taken from their mothers and go through a cruel process to succumb to the demeaning demands of humans for entertainment. Instead of supporting the locals who use the elephants mainly for personal gain, we decided to volunteer at an honest organization focused only on taking care of the elephants.
The owner of Elephant Nature Park, Lek (Lek meaning tiny in Thai) is a tiny lady, but has a big heart. Lek uses love to train the elephants of the Elephant Nature Park and doesn’t give up on helping them even when they seem past the point of saving. She’s put all her efforts into rescuing elephants from circuses and other tourist agencies. The organization also takes in the elephants from the logging industries and ones who suffer from medical handicaps that can’t be used for anything. Several of the elephants working in the logging industry were brought to the park because they stepped on land mines and suffered horrible injuries.
Today at Elephant Nature Park there are 67 elephants, including 4 babies- 3 boys and 1 girl. There’s also 400 dogs, 200 cats, water buffalo and cows rescued from the slaughter house, and several horses. Since taking care of all these animals costs a fortune, %60 of the money needed to support Elephant Nature Park comes from tourists donation and volunteering. %20 of the money comes from sponsoring, so without other people’s help the Elephant Nature Park wouldn’t be where it is today, an amazing sanctuary for hundreds of animals.
There are different oportunities for volunteers at Elephant Nature Park:
- A half day trip that involves feeding and interacting with the elephants
- A full day trip where we got to feed, bath and play with the elephants
- A week trip where volunteers can stay in a hut and take care of the elephants and interact more with them
We did the full day trip, but would have loved to stay there for a week or longer if we could have!
At elephant nature park we were able to walk around and interact with several different elephants. It was intimidating to stand next to them at first, but they were gentle giants that were content with us petting and scratching them. There’s one mahout (elephant trainer) for every elephant that takes care of the elephant everyday. We were constantly handed food to give to the elephants and the mahouts had a common saying, “if you have food elephant will follow, but no food no friend.” There are no bull hooks to train the elephants, only food. Elephants need to eat a lot so it was a day of constantly feeding them and getting to pet and play with them.
We went to the river to give the elephants a bath by throwing buckets of water on them and they tumbled around in the water. One elephant spun, sticking his trunk in the water and making bubbles. Afterwards the elephants rolled in the mud to keep cool and to act as a sunscreen.
There were several elephants who had handicaps, but it was incredible to see that they were living a wonderful life despite being blind or having an injured leg. I was fascinated by the medical side of how the veterinarian has been treating the animal’s wounds and how they’ve healed.
We learned more about the elephants and their behaviors, especially about how they act when they’re distressed and when they’re happy. There were only happy elephants at Elephant Nature Park and I’ve never seen elephants so playful and loving.
Going to Elephant Nature Park was a win-win situation for the tourist and elephant alike. We were able to interact and play with these powerful and amazing creatures, and they received the love and care they deserve. If you’re ever in Thailand and want to interact with the elephants, be careful not to support those that mistreat them. If you volunteer at Elephant Nature Park you’ll be able to have an incredible experience of caring for and getting to know more about the elephants, and also helping to ensure their happiness.
Would you want to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park?