This was by far my BEST day in Thailand. Bridget and I wanted to visit an elephant park when we were in Thailand, but 99% of them treat the elephants in an inhumane way, using sticks and whips and hitting them. We refused to go to a place like that.
The Elephant Nature Park was absolutely amazing. It is a rescue and rehabilitation sanctuary for elephants in northern Thailand. The elephants are not chained are able to roam free around the sanctuary. Check it out at http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/. It was all started by this wonderful woman, Lek. I got to meet her, and she signed my book. She even told me that a Texan donated all the land for the park. Isn't that cool? They have 37 elephants and over 400 dogs. What a perfect combination! They also have some cats and water buffalo.
The dogs were chilling all over the sanctuary. The dogs with the red ribbons are best to just look at and not pet. But all the other ones just loved the attention and loved to be petted.
Our first experience with the elephants was being able to feed them from the platform. They eat A LOT of food every day. We got to feed her bananas and watermelon.
I love how she looks like she's smiling.
Many of the dogs were rescued from the 2011 floods of Bangkok.
Gorgeous or what? Each elephant has a mahout and stays with them.
What's awesome about this place is that the guides know every single elephant by name and can tell you their story as well. The elephants here have created their own little surrogate families and travel around the park together. It was so incredible to see. In fact, looking at these pictures is bringing tears to my eyes. I loved, loved, loved that place. Such wonderful memories...
You can even sign up to volunteer here. I met an older couple that had been volunteering here for a week and absolutely loved it. You can volunteer with the elephants or the dogs.
The elephants here have such sad stories. They have been made to use for logging, mining, begging on streets, and even trekking for tourists (when people ride in "baskets" on their backs...yes, you see this everywhere and you will understand later why it's bad). Money is raised so Lek can buy the abused elephants and bring them here.
At most places in Thailand (in fact practically every place), the handlers have a large steel hook to jab the elephants when they don't follow directions. They do not use hooks here or anything like that. The handlers each have a specific elephant and they form very strong relationships with them. It was truly magical to see.
So let me tell you about these 2 sweet elephants. Jokia was in the logging business. She was pregnant, dragging a log up a mountain. She went into labor, and her handler made her keep working. The baby was born and sadly rolled down the hill, still in the placenta. She stopped to check on her baby, refusing to move further. That made her handler mad so he shot her in the eye with a sling shot. Several years later, he stabbed her in the other eye when she made him mad. She was then blind in both eyes and no more use to her handler. Lek rescued her and brought her to the sanctuary. They were worried about her at first, not knowing how she would do in the herd, if she would be able to trust anyone. Well, she met Mae Perm, the other elephant, who "adopted" her and took her under her wing, always guiding her around the sanctuary through touch and low rumbles. They are now inseparable. Because I am teaching at a blind school, this story really really touched me. In such a profound way. I even bought a wood carving of the two of them together. I will never forget their story.
He was a special elephant, not quite ready to join a herd since he wanted to be in charge. Such a teenager.
This is the clinic where the elephants got treated.
This sweet elephant had a boo-boo, an absess, that was getting treated.
An elephant's tooth. Bridget and I were in a group of 9 (each group there had only 9 people), and we were with 7 friends from London. They were a fun group.
Check out that awesome mouth!
It's lunch time. We had a buffet.
The dogs know where to go to get food from the mahouts.
Naps after lunch time.
This sweet elephant has a broken hip, a broken leg, and a broken back. Guess how her back was broken? From trekking....having people ride her back in a basket. I never knew this was harmful to elephants. Never knew. She looks like she's in pain, but she's doing fine.
This smart elephant had an itch and got a stick to scratch herself. Smart elephant!
I just loved their ears and their eyes. So expressive and loving.
Bath time! Bathing is a daily ritual here at the park. Elephants keep themselves cool by bathing in the river. That's one of the great things about this sanctuary. It really mirrors their natural habitat. We fed our sweet granny elephant while we bathed her. As long as she was eating, she didn't care what else you did.
Check out the elephant's foot on the right.
Her foot was mutilated from a land mine. They often used elephants to check out an area beforehand. She gets around OK. It made my heart hurt though.
Time to see the baby!
Elephants are very protective of the babies and ALWAYS protect it. It's so awesome to see.
When the baby makes a noise or gets startled or scared, the other elephants completely surround it to show the baby that it's safe. LOVE!
How. Cute. Is. That?
The baby's handler
In the gift shop, this sweet dog has the perfect spot for a nap.
Reminds me of Kobe...
In the afternoon, our guide took us to the dog shelter area. Dogs that live there roam free around the park, and dogs that are available for adoption live in the shelter areas. And to answer your question, yes, they adopt out to countries all over the world.
The brown one in front was THE sweetest dog. I wanted to adopt him right then and there. He is paralyzed in his two back legs and scoots all the place on the shiny floor.
Here are his wheels...
Scooting across the shiny floor...
The dogs had the best set up here. Seriously. They had places to sleep, explore, chill, and run. Hay is used for their bedding.
He wanted to play SO bad with his next door neighbors.
Now, we're in the BEST part of the dog shelter. This place was awesome. They even had a pond for the dogs to go swimming, and boy, did they love to swim.
Bridget getting some doggie love...
Me getting some doggie love...
This dog was a little scared of people, so he stayed in his little hiding spot.
This dog cracked me up. Just look at him!
I was NOT ready to leave. I could have easily stayed there with the dogs several more hours. Can you tell that I desperately miss my dogs?
Closing the gate... :(
The dogs are saying good-bye
One of the volunteers walking a dog
It's a three-legged baby! Like my Kobe! And Angel...
This is the main area at the park. Notice dogs are just anywhere and everywhere. I loved it.
Good-bye elephants. Good-bye dogs. Good-bye Elephant Nature Park.
If you ever make it to Thailand, I urge you to visit this amazing park. Words cannot describe just how incredible and awe-inspiring it is.