WALKING WITH ELEPHANTS AT ELEPHANT NATURE PARK
Updated: Nov 10, 2019
Seeing elephants in person has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. The older, and more aware of the world, I've gotten, the more important it was to find a way to experience this in a way that was absolutely ethical and not harmful to the elephants or the environment.
CHOOSING ELEPHANT NATURE PARK
As with anything in the tourism industry, there are hundreds of tours out there providing elephant interaction. Too many still contain elephant riding, or elephant bathing, both of which are extremely harmful to the elephants.
So, so many tours advertise themselves as being ethical or eco-friendly, capitalising on the growing market for such tours. However, most of these tours are ethical in name only. Speaking to people who've been on these tours, the elephants are often forced into interacting, beaten or tied up when they're out of the sight of the public, separated from their families/herd and inundated with human interaction.
Elephant Nature Park is first and foremost an elephant sanctuary, only offering tours as a means of income and education in order to keep the park running, and to reach their goal of having no elephant riding within Thailand and Asia in the next 10-15 years.
Their dedication and ethos is at the core of everything they do and advertise, and having watched the documentary based on the founder, Lek, and the park, I knew this was the only park I'd feel 100% satisfied with.
If you're interested in the photos only, skip down halfway x
ABOUT THE PARK
First founded in the 1990's by Lek Chailert, the park offers sanctuary and a safe space for a large number of elephants, most rescued and bought from logging mills and animal shows, whilst others have been donated - usually in scenarios where elephants have stepped on land mines or have been otherwise injured.
There are around 30 elephants in the care of the park, and pretty much everyone in the park is there on a voluntary basis; from tourists to entire families. Each elephant receives its own mahout, with baby elephants sharing the same mahout as the mother until they're grown and receive their own.
The elephants are left free to roam the entire grounds all day until around 5pm when the park shuts and the elephants are enclosed while the volunteers rest and spend time with family. The elephants aren't made to interact and aren't moved to certain areas - the tourists go to where the elephants are currently in the park.
There are a few male elephants at the park, and during a season known as Musth, the male elephants are kept in a segregated area of the park as they become extremely aggressive towards not only other elephants but also to other creatures, something I witnessed first hand when a large male began throwing sand at workers. Apart from this, the elephants are completely free to roam wherever they wish.
When booking online there were only a limited number of day tickets available each day - keeping the number of visitors manageable and making the experience much more personal and authentic.
The tour includes pick up and drop off from your accommodation in an air conditioned minivan with a safety video to watch on the way there detailing what to do and not do within the park. Each group has around 10 people in, and each tour is given a guide. My guide Sao was incredible! She spoke insane English and knew so much about the park and the individual elephants.
First up you feed the elephants bananas and watermelon from behind a barrier - mostly to protect you from the strong swoops of elephant trunks, especially since several elephants are completely blind and rely on their trunks to navigate.
After that, you're taken on a tour to learn about the types of food given to the elephants and why, where the food is sourced from locally, how often the food is sourced, and who prepares it.
You're then taken around the park throughout the day, introduced to those elephants that enjoy socialising - in which you can gently touch the shoulders of and have photos taken. For the families of elephants and the elephants that aren't healed from their ordeals, you're introduced from a safe distance.
The entire time you're carefully monitored by your guide - firmly but kindly told to move when you get too close or when the elephants wander (or in my case, the rascal baby elephants decide to play a game of human tag!).
A vegetarian lunch buffet is included and has so much variety it's the perfect opportunity to try different Thai dishes.
On a whole, the experience far outdid my already high expectations and I truly, wholeheartedly wouldn't hesitate to recommend this place!
These two ladies are thick as thieves and very social, however we were warned one of them (I dubbed her the flower crown queen) was more social than the other.
These few elephants were still healing, one from standing on a minefield. We were allowed within a respectable distance and allowed to take photos, ALWAYS with the flash off!
The rest of these elephants were the varying elephant families within the park. We got to see the elephants bathing only with their individual mahouts, and cover themselves in mud again to cool down.
We then got to see the trucks unload corn for feeding a family of elephants.
We were then introduced to some very cheeky baby elephants and a very inquisitive lady!
As an added bonus, the park is home to hundreds of cats, dogs, and water buffalo!