Elephants are the largest land animal in the world and they are fascinating, paradoxical creatures. While fiercely strong, they are emotionally fragile. Huge and heavy, but lighthearted and loving. And in Thailand, where they are the national symbol, the people have abused and tortured these animals that they claim to revere.
We’ve learned so much spending a week serving this beautiful beast. I never knew the plight of the elephant and the centuries of torture and taming they have endured. The photos we’ve seen will haunt me forever – abuse that still remains today while elephants are being trained to beg in the city streets, perform in the circus or work in the forests as loggers. I am so thankful that we were pointed to Elephant Nature Park to work with rescued elephants. If I can be one voice that discourages friends and family from paying to ride elephants or see them in the circus, we can slowly break the cycle of tourism and money that perpetuates the industry of abuse and is ultimately killing them off completely.
There are only 5,000 elephants remaining in all of Thailand. Lek Chailert, the founder of Elephant Nature Park, has dedicated her life to rescuing abused animals and bringing them home to this sanctuary. There are 66 elephants, and many are blind from being poked with hooks while being broken in or being overworked under circus lights, have broken legs or hips from years of pulling logs and most are mentally unstable after years of abuse. As volunteers this week, we paid to scoop their poo, unload their food off of trucks and wash it lovingly, and cut corn and hay for them. In return we fed them, bathed them in the river, walked alongside them under the warm sun and listened to them talk to each other at night.
I cannot encourage you enough to consider visiting this part of the world and spending time with the elephants at Elephant Nature Park. Lek is changing the future for these animals and we felt so lucky to be supporting her heroic efforts. Please share this post, visit www.saveelephantfoundation.org for more info and enjoy the photos of God’s beautiful creatures!
The elephants roam free here, no chains, ropes or hooks. They each have one mahout, like a shepherd, who watches over them.
They enjoy baths in the river every afternoon (and the guests love it, too!)
Every morning we worked for a few hours unloading and cleaning pumpkins, watermelons and bananas.
In the afternoons we had “park cleaning” duty, which meant we shoveled doodie.
Amazing Lek, the visionary behind Elephant Nature Park. She grew up in a nearby village and has made it her life’s mission to rescue mistreated elephants. Sadly, she is not a national heroine, but is seen as a threat to mainstream tourism and the age-old traditions of using elephants as slaves. It will take an international support system to bring about change in her country and a more humane treatment of their national treasure.
We worked alongside a great group of servants who became friends. It was an unforgettable experience!