22.12.2012 - 22.12.2012 26 °C
Today we headed to an elephant nature park an hour outside of Chiang Mai for an overnight stay. The park was set up by a Thai lady originally from a local tribe (although now shunned as a rebel for her good deeds) and it's primary purpose is to rescue and improve the lives of domestic elephants. Unlike wild elephants, which are considered endangered in this area and receive some protection, domestic elephants have similar rights to most other domestic animals in Thailand (i.e. almost none). In the past, domestic elephants were primarily used in the logging industry, but since the ban on logging here they were put to work in tourist trekking camps and on the city streets begging for their owners. Many of these animals are mistreated by their mahouts (handlers) or owners and all must undergo a horrific and brutal "spirit breaking" ritual when young in order to break the bonds between mother and baby.
The park we visited currently has 34 elephants, most rescued from abuse and a lucky few that were born at the park. Here are just two of their stories:
Medo: Seriously injured in a logging camp, when a heavy log fell on her and broke her ankle. The bone was never properly set, leaving her lame. She was then put to use in a breeding programme. In particularly bad breeding programmes, female elephants are chained up and males allowed to mate with them. In Medo's case, she was chained by all four legs and left to the agression of a huge male elephant. Her injuries after this encounter were life threatening. But her owners kept her hidden away from the sight of people who could help her, until finally she was rescued 18 years later.
Jokia: Used in an illegal logging camp. After giving birth Jokia was put straight back to work, her young baby allowed to walk alongside her. When her baby fell down a slope Jokia was not allowed to go to him, but was forced to continue working. Her baby died and Jokia soon after began to refuse to work. In order to get her to work her mahout, and later her new owner, shot stones and arrows at her eyes. She is now completely blind.
As well as rescuing such animals, the park makes regular trips out into the tribes to give medical care to domestic elephants still working. And thanks to the enthusiasm of the park's founder, street begging by elephants is now illegal in some of Thailand's big cities and campaigns for increased animal rights in Thailand are gaining support. We think that this is proof of how much one person can do to change the world.
Our day involved feeding some of the elephants, walking around the park to meet some of the elephant families and learn their histories, bathing some of the older elephants that don't like the water so much, and eating a lot of yummy food!
If anyone wants to learn more about the plight of these fantastic animals and all the amazing work done by the park staff then check out the park's website at http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/index.htm