Elephant Nature Park is a rescue centre and sanctuary for elephants of all ages based just outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand in the Mae Taeng district, and is run by Save Elephant Foundation. I first heard about the park when volunteering last year in Cambodia at the sister sanctuary, where the foundation work within the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary. After spending an incredible week with two of the older elephants in Cambodia, I wanted to experience the first park that founder Lek began, where a herd of over 15 elephants live peacefully together, young and old.
If you’ve visited Thailand before, or in fact any country in Asia, you will be aware that elephant riding and trekking is offered to tourists and promoted just as much as the coffee culture. Yet just because there are colourful leaflets and Pinterest images of happy looking tourists riding an elephant, should you do it? Many travellers that I spoke to knew of the suffering that elephants endure that work in the tourism industry, yet were happy to stop asking questions when presented with a no ride, no hook alternative. Unfortunately many of the parks that offer the cheaper, no hook no ride packages are not 100% transparent about the conditions that the elephants work in. A veterinary friend decided to try what she considered to be a reputable park, and paid for an overnight package. They did not ride the elephants, and interacted with them by walking and feeding them. When night fell, she decided to do some investigating. Sadly she found that once the elephants had interacted with the tourists they were kept around the back of the centre, chained together in a painfully small space. Some were without food and water. It was apparent then that the elephants were still being mis treated.
The good news is that Lek’s Elephant Nature Park offers the opportunity to interact with these magnificent creatures safely in their own environment. Each elephant has been rescued from either the tourism or logging trades, and comes to the park with injuries, their own unique personality and background. Care and attention is taken to nurse them back to health and to integrate them into their new free environment. This is a place where elephants can learn to be elephants again, and live freely without harm.
I could go on and on about how good this place is, but instead make up your own mind after you’ve seen the below (please excuse my yells of delight) …
For safety reasons you feed the elephants from behind a raised platform, from a bucket of freshly picked fruit and vegetables.
Other animals live at the park too such as cats, dogs and even buffalo. They run adoption programs for the cats and dogs that they have rescued and brought back to health. If you are looking to give a cat or dog a good home, or find out more about their sponsorship programs, click here.
What do you think? Have you been here before? Send us a tweet! To learn more about the Elephant Nature Park and their programs, click here.