Elephant Nature Park – Pampered Pachyderms
My biggest dream in going to Thailand spending time with elephants in a place where the elephants (and I!) were having an amazing time. Elephant Nature Park is that place. In fact, Elephant Nature Park might be heaven. It is place for rescued animals to live out their lives surrounded by love, treated with dignity, and fed literally tons of organic watermelon. Actually, I think this might be Dmitry’s idea of heaven as well.
As our guide told us: “In other elephant parks, the elephants are there to entertain the tourists. Here, the tourists entertain the elephants.” Fortunately, entertaining an elephant is great fun. The woman who founded the park requires that the elephants only be guided by positive reinforcement (generally, food and encouragement from their handlers) and never with the painful elephant hook or chains that most other captive elephants endure. Fully grown elephants eat up to 300 pounds of fresh fruit every day, and the elephants at the park keep up a steady circuit, moving between the groups of tourists to be fed watermelon, bananas, and pumpkins (they like pumpkins the least – they are the least sweet).
Another basket of watermelon is placed at the edge of the river at bath time, so that the tourists can wash the elephant down while she feasts.
All of the elephant interaction was amazing, but some of the most beautiful moments were those where the elephants were just living their lives – teaching the baby to swim in the river, playing chase with some of the rescue dogs, walking along and pulling each other’s tails – while we got to observe from close by.
Elephant Nature park didn’t make all my elephant dreams come true. I had pictured actually getting into a giant bath tub with a baby elephant for bath time – turns out that would not work. Firstly, a baby elephant weighs 300 pounds and does not know its own strength. Secondly, the babies are carefully guarded by “nannies” – older female elephants who adopt them and help the mothers keep watch. Whenever a baby strays from the group – especially if they were moving too close to the tourists – a nanny comes running to bring him back, and those nannies can move very quickly.
The Park offers volunteer opportunities for up to four weeks (they limit the stay so that the elephants don’t get too attached). My only regret is that we did not stay longer.