I LOVE elephants! As a family, we love elephants. Maybe it’s because I’m from Africa and their blood runs through my veins, maybe it’s because they stir up fond memories of childhood or maybe it’s because they are my brothers favorite animal and it’s just one more connection I have with him, but no matter the reason, I love to be in their presence.
We have avoided all touristy elephant activities here in Thailand, because they are so abused and unhappy. Constantly chained, hit with sharp hooks till they bleed, forced to give rides in the heat and on the hot roads, and often stand for hours – absolutely bored out of their minds.
Mahouts are elephant trainers, who train elephants for the sake of profit, and their technique is to beat them into submission. A bullhook is the weapon of choice, and is inserted into the delicate skin around the ears. We’ve also seen many puncture wounds on their foreheads and faces from being scraped and stabbed into submission. Thailand uses twice as many elephants for tourism than any other country, and in 2016, about 3000 elephants were observed and only 200 of them were found to be in healthy conditions and environment.
As a family, we decided that even though we love these beautiful pachyderms, we would not support this cruelty in any form. I told Danny that if ever he received a phonemail saying I was in jail, it would be because I snuck out in the night with some bolt cutters and set them all free.
We were so excited to read about an elephant retirement park, where a group has made it their mission to purchase/beg for/steal abused elephants, and provide for them a place where they can live freely, be loved, and spend their days being elephants…eating, bathing, sleeping, being social with each other and pooping. We were surprised to find that this park is only 10 minutes from our house, and just had to go visit!
Elephant Retirement Park Phuket is a magical place! (When visiting make sure you go to this exact park with this exact name because many places call themselves sanctuaries but they are not) Their policies in their treatment of the elephants is extremely strict, allowing absolutely no riding, chaining or beating of any kind. A veterinarian whose job I covet, is there every day, and tourists and volunteers can pay to come spend time with the elephants, feeding, bathing and walking along side them, and all profits go to their needs and care. Because these elephants were once trained to be puppets for their mahouts, they are all tame and friendly and would not survive if set back out into the wild. This one took a liking to Danny and kissed him on the cheek.
After arriving at the Park, we walked around and got to know each of the 9 elephants. They do have a loose rope around their necks, but it does not hurt them in any way and is gently used only when they need to lead them places in emergencies etc. One of the elephants is old and completely blind and needs to be guided wherever she goes. Only one out of the 9 elephants was in a pen, because she was sick and was being closely monitored and cared for.
Danny and I adopted another daughter while there…her name is Jarjar, and she is such a sweetheart. Her father is the park manager and she was our ‘tour guide’ for the day.
After making friends with our new elephant family, we began preparing their lunch, which consisted of finger bananas (skin on),
as well as balls of rice mixed with bananas and mangoes. The twins were elbow deep in the mixture!
The balls looked and smelled so appetizing so I tasted one (much to the creatures dismay) and found it to be quite delicious.
I think I could enjoy being an elephant.
We carried the food to the elephants and they were happy to oblige and relieve us of our loads.
It’s easy to recognize personality in these guys – some being more mischievous than others – some a little more shy. One thing they had in common though, was their love for food! One banana at a time was not an option. Three or four rolled up in their cute little big trunks was about right.
They love to be hugged, patted and stroked, and we gave them all the love we could and received plenty in return.
After feeding time we watched as cute little baby ‘Pinky’ came to play in the water from a hose with her Momma. She is quite a handful and full of energy and mischief – constantly trying to pull out tent pegs and and hoses.
If I could somehow have an elephant as a support animal I’d take it everywhere with me on adventures around the world! I can just imagine one on scuba gear and on airplane and boat rides.
The fun really began when we gave the elephants mud baths. They LOVE mud baths, and we did too. Note that they are not being restrained or tied up – just standing willingly, and enjoying every second of it.
I had fun writing ‘Wash me” on an elephants butt! Check that off my bucket list!
After a mud fight with the locals, we were thoroughly muddy and were finally ready to head to the water hole…luckily this one didn’t have hippo’s and crocs in it!!
There’s not much more exhilarating than bathing with an elephant. They are playful, love to lift their trunks and splash in the water, and love to be scrubbed with brushes.
These Asian elephants are much smaller than African elephants, and also have considerably smaller ears. Asian elephants weigh on average about 6 tons, where as the African elephants average 9 tons.
Elephant skin is about one inch thick, so we didn’t have to worry about scrubbing too hard and hurting them.
We spent quite some time cleaning these Sweethearts,
they rolled in the sand!
What a beautiful, peaceful setting!
Though I loved every part of our time there, and will be returning to volunteer and learn all I can, the most wonderful part, was knowing that my brother, the elephant lover that he is, was right by my side the entire time.