Volunteering at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) for one week in April 2016 was one of the best things I have ever done; the whole experience was so rewarding and I felt so privileged to be able to help these amazing animals.
When I visited Thailand in 2015, I wasn’t aware of what elephants go through in order for humans to be able to ride them; in order to tame a wild elephant, its spirit must be broken. This torturing process is called Phajaan or “the crush”, and takes place when the elephant is a baby. The baby elephants get ripped apart from their mothers, and are put into small cages where they are unable to move. They are then beaten, deprived of sleep and starved for many days. Once the spirit of the elephant has been broken, they can be used for the tourism and logging industries. It wasn’t until I’d returned back to the U.K. and had done a bare-back elephant trek through the jungles of Chiang Mai that awareness of this abuse was raised through various social media platforms. I felt super guilty. I had once longed for a photograph riding an elephant in Thailand, and now I was feeling ashamed of those photographs.
I can see how easy it is for tourists to fall into the trap that riding elephants is okay; there’s so many elephant camps throughout Thailand offering rides and some even have the word sanctuary in their name. I also found Thai people to be extremely welcoming and friendly, so I was shocked that they thought it was okay to treat something like this. I think the more and more awareness that is raised about the abuse of elephants, the more tourists will know that it isn’t okay to ride elephants and hopefully this will result in less elephants being abused like this.
Elephant Nature Park (ENP) is a beautiful sanctuary tucked away in the jungles of Northern Thailand recusing, protecting and caring for mistreated elephants from the tourism and logging industries. ENP doesn’t just stop at elephants, they rescue any animals that need rescuing; when I visited, there were dogs, cats, water buffalo and birds also onsite. You can tell that the animals at ENP are so happy to have a second chance in life, and it was so nice to see the elephants playing around in the fields freely.
Visiting ENP gives you an opportunity to engage with these incredible animals without riding them. You can still get up close and personal with them, but it’s satisfying knowing that you’re not contributing to harming them. During a one day visit, you get to feed and bathe the elephants which is such an incredible experience.
If you’re thinking about visiting elephants in Thailand, take a trip to Chiang Mai and visit Elephant Nature Park – you won’t regret it!
Read more about my one week volunteering project at Elephant Nature Park here.
Have you visited ENP, or are you planning a visit? Please leave your comments below.