Elephant Nature Park Tour

“Is that baby elephant alive?”

This unexpected question came from the highly inquisitive member of our tour group (there’s always one) who walked ahead with Tun, our guide, toward a tall open air shed.

Up to that point, our tour through the Elephant Nature Park in the Chiang Mai province of Thailand had gone well.

Earlier we’d gingerly dropped fresh banana, melon, and pineapple onto the rubbery grasping trunks of elephants standing on the opposite side of a railing. Kids (okay, adults, too) giggled at the elephants’ surprisingly dexterous trunks and the crunching, slurping noises they made as they ate.

Elephant Feeding
Then we’d walked the grounds and had a chance to stand beside these 2-3 ton Asian elephants – this time with no railings in between.

Although they seemed mammoth, weighing the equivalent of two Honda sedans, I’d learned these amazingly gentle creatures were smaller than their wild 4-5 ton counterparts due to malnutrition and enforced labor prior to adulthood.

We’d fed them again, posed with them for photos, and, afterwards, surreptitiously wiped mucous off our necks and legs.

ENP_the gals

As we neared the shed, I spotted a baby elephant on the concrete floor.

The baby was limp and lifeless, unresponsive to the adult female elephant looming over it.

The adult was swaying her trunk in an odd way that we hadn’t observed with other elephants during the first part of our tour.

Silently I wondered if we were going to be witnesses to this evening’s Thailand Breaking News: Baby Elephant Found Dead at Elephant Nature Park.

Sleeping baby elephant

“Yes,” assured Tun. “He is sleeping. ”

I stood there skeptically until I saw how the adult fanned, stroked, and touched the baby’s body with her trunk. Accuse me of anthropomorphism, but I recognized these as loving, comforting motions of a mother to her child.

We learned that mothers are pregnant for about two years before giving birth. Normally mothers and their calves move freely about the sanctuary. This mother, Mintra, had a mouth injury and was being kept in the pen while it healed.

Tun pointed out another female in the pen. “That is the nanny. When an elephant becomes pregnant, another female elephant will become the nanny. They will take turns watching over the baby.”

One of the tourists stuck his hand through the bars to point at something. The Nanny bolted over to stand in front of him, creating an additional 3 ton barrier between the humans and the mother and baby.

We noticed this instinctive behavior throughout our tour. Calves were generally flanked by two or more elephants.

This lucky baby, whose name we learned was Yindee, had two nannies. Both had followed the mother into the pen in order to stay near and refused to leave even when the doors were left open.

The second nanny stood in the adjoining bay. Her right rear leg had been maimed by a land mine.

With Jokia, the elephant blinded in both eyes by prior owners.

With Jokia, the elephant blinded in both eyes by prior owners.

Several of the elephants we saw at ENP had visible wounds: gouged eyes, ripped ears, broken hips and legs, all resulting from prior abuse and accidents in the logging or tourist industry.

Others showed signs of internal wounds, swinging their legs as if pulling against chains which were no longer present.

One of the elephants named Jokia had been blinded in both eyes. She was fortunately rescued by ENP with the help of donors to pay the exorbitant price her owners demanded.

Mintra had complications nursing due to disfigurement from ropes used by her prior owners to restrain her. She also suffered from a dislocated hip caused by abuse.

ENP’s founder, Lek Chailert, provides a sanctuary for these elephants, enabling them to rehabilitate and live out the rest of their lives in their natural environment. Falling in love with them as a little girl, she was later shocked to witness how they were abused. This led to her lifetime commitment to protect these endangered creatures. Only 3 percent of the population remain of the 100,000 elephants a century ago.

Unlike other elephant parks, the ENP does not condone the use of training hooks, whips, or aggressive discipline with these elephants. Nor do they allow tourists to ride them.

Lek says, “when we love them, the elephants can feel that.”

Baby elephant Yindee eventually awoke and clambered around the pen, doing things that babies do.

Like trying to copy his mother eating a bamboo stalk.

And playing with poop.

Here’s a clip of the baby Yindee and the elephants bathing in the river:
[youtube=”http://youtu.be/aOLuXXf3z7s&rel=0″ width=”400″]


For more information about the Elephant Nature Park, visit http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/.
Sign up for a day tour, or one of their popular volunteer opportunities–families are welcome.
Transportation from downtown Chiang Mai includes a documentary movie about the tortured elephants like Jokia and their rescue by ENP founder Lek Chailert that just might make you cry.

Categories: Travel

Leave a Reply