Not Riding Elephants in Thailand – A day at the Elephant Nature Park

Not Riding Elephants in Thailand - A day at the Elephant Nature Park 4

Not Riding Elephants in Thailand – A day at the Elephant Nature Park

I want to ride an elephant. Is that so wrong?

For years I have watched my friends and fellow travelers post pictures of themselves having the time of their lives on top of these giants and for years I have said that I want to do that too.  So when we finally booked a trip to Thailand I was pumped to cross riding an elephant off my travel bucket list.  Yep, years of elephant riding jealousy were about to be erased. Visions of Dumbo and me frolicking hand-in-hand (hoof?) through a shallow stream danced in my head while “happy together” by the Turtles accompanied us.

Then Erin grew a conscience…
You see she had heard about Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for abused and abandoned elephants. A friend of hers had recently gone there to volunteer and raved about the experience. I didn’t pay much attention to the details beyond the fact that they have a shit ton of elephants. I was sold and went back to my daydream.

“bahhhh bah bahh…so happppy too-getherrrrrr…”

It wasn’t until we were on the bus heading to the Elephant Nature Park did I realize my day dream was just that.

Shaun – Oh man, I am going to ride so many elephants!
Erin – Ummm… You know you can’t actually ride the elephants right?
Shaun – What.
Erin – It’s an orphanage for elephants.
Shaun – What?

It was like someone bumped the record player and “happy together” came to a screeching stop. It was a rude awakening. Turns out the Elephant Nature Park is a rescue shelter for elephants that have been treated cruelly or abandoned when no longer needed as workers in the logging and tourism industry. It also turns out that those happy friends riding those elephants in those pictures could have been doing harm. During the introduction and orientation we were tour told horrifying stories of animal cruelty in the forests and on the streets. This included stabbing and blinding elephants when they would not listen and broken backs and hips from overloading and overworking them. This included from paying tourists. Fak.

A Day Spent Not Riding Elephants

We continued on to the feeding station. I stomped my feet like a two-year-old who didn’t get his way. Things did turn around when we saw these gentle beasts up close. We were allowed to feed them which was hilarious. I will never forget the wet chomping sound as the cantaloupes exploded in their mouths.

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Our day continued with a tour of the facility and stories behind the now famous residents there. At the Elephant Nature Park the animals are free to roam the 250 acres property, although they seem to be in a routine rotating around the groups of tourists that arrive. Eat. Bath. Snack. Chase the baby elephant. Eat some more. Repeat.

 

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People actually pay to shovel elephant shit!

On top of not riding elephants at the Elephant Nature Park you can sign up and stay on site and hang out with the animals all day/week/month if you want. This sounds like more fun than it probably  is.  This was clear when we passed by one of the large sheds where two Eco-tourists  were shoveling elephant dung in the hot and humid Thai sun. One girl wasn’t impressed as she cursed and complained to her boyfriend. Clearly she had bitten off more than she could shovel – to which her boyfriend replied “this was your idea!”

God bless their elephant sized hearts!

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Great Cause, Mixed Feelings

At the end of the day I had come around and was glad we chose the Elephant Nature Park over the other ones that target tourists money. They are committed to treating the animals with love and respect and are not necessarily after tourist money.  Still, I couldn’t help but feel a bit skeptical about how the Elephant Nature Park portrays the use of elephants in Thailand – which has been done for centuries. It is to them what horses are to us and without the use of them, Thailand would not have the temples and roads of yesterday and tourist dollars of today. Of course how they break these animals into being submissive is/was horrible and cruel however they have done it this way for sometime. I’m not saying it is right but it is part of the culture. It’s easy to be an outsider pointing and saying it’s wrong but if you lived there and needed the work done maybe you would think otherwise.  Maybe there are less cruel ways, maybe the animals could be less exploited. I don’t know. Maybe I am bitter because I didn’t ride an elephant. All I know is I didn’t know how I felt about it while visiting the Elephant Nature Park and don’t know how I feel about it now.

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What I do know is the Elephant Nature Park  treats its residents incredibly well, especially its oldest ones that need to take a load off now and them. So I didn’t get to ride an elephant. I’m OK with that. I did get to frolic in a shallow stream with an elephant and will never forget that experience.

I guess I got my  “Happy Together” moment after all.

 



Elephant Nature Park on Facebook

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  • Fanny Lopez

    So cute! I would be happy to just bath them!

  • Aaron Kolle

    Yah I rode elephants in Thailand and then found out after in wasn’t cool. I should have known as the place I went was a bit dodgy. Cool experience but I hear ya.

  • Harly Smith

    Well I guess I won’t be crossing this off my bucket list either! Thanks for the heads up Shaun.

  • Rob Danza

    Riding them or not, these are awesome pictures!

  • Katie McGrain

    Agreed, the pictures are awesome! I am also planning a trip to Thailand and debating whether or not to head to one of these sanctuaries! Thanks for the sweet post!

    • Thanks Katie! I do recommend Elephant Nature Park if you are in the area!

  • I’m really glad you got to go here. I really hope that more and more people become aware that elephant riding for tourists is not a good option and it is cruel to the elephants. I also realize that using elephants as laborers might be part of the culture, but just because it is part of the culture doesn’t mean that it is right. Shark fin soup might be a part of culture, doesn’t mean it is right. There are numerous examples of this. I feel like as we progress as a society, we need to learn to treat animals humanely, care for our own natural environment, and the world as a whole becomes a much better place. I hope to visit here someday and maybe I’ll end up shoveling elephant poop (yikes!) 😉

    • I’m glad I went too Lauren and totally agree with the animal cruelty side. I just always have a hard time pointing fingers on how things have been done for a long time. Doesn’t mean it’s right of course.

      Definitely recommend you go! Enjoy the elephant dung!

  • I really enjoyed my day at Elephant Nature Park, although I did sign up knowing full well that absolutely no elephant riding would be going on. I agree that elephants were important draft animals that the Thais needed to get things hauled around in the days before heavy machinery. However, I think that the abusive ways that they were treated is deplorable. I like that positive reinforcement is used at ENP and hope that other elephant owners/trainers start adopting this method instead of beating them.

    • Thanks Michele. I think if I knew in advance I would think otherwise but am glad I went and am glad I know what the cost of tourism has on elephants in Thailand.

  • What a great story. My friends actually went to this park when they were in Thailand and told me all about it. I like the idea of being able to bath the elephants and help out. I’m not sure I would sign up for picking up the poop. Thanks for sharing and being part of the #WeekendWanderlust this week.

    • Ha! Thanks for the comment Carmen. Yup, save the poop for the die hard elephant lovers.

  • We visited ENP too and absolutely loved it. To be honest, I was a tad skeptical of their complete condemnation of riding an elephant (can it really hurt that huge animal to sit on its back?), but after spending the day there I think I understood that riding the elephant is really supporting the abusive behavior that makes it rideable. And yes, elephants were necessary for logging, but logging is now illegal in most parts of Thailand. I think once you see an elephant on the streets looking really stressed and out of place, you become more convinced that ENP was the best choice! http://www.poplartravels.com/elephant-nature-park-chiang-mai/

    • Thanks guys! I really did like me time at the Elephant Nature Park. They really do care for the animals there and agree that after a day my mind was changed too. Thanks for the comment and the share!

    • Dale_anglo

      Actually, yes, the riding does cause long term damaging effects. In fact, one of the elephants at ENP has clear spinal damage from her years of riding. There’s a huge dip in her spine where she’s had to carry the burden of too much weight in the wrong place. The way her body is constructed is to support the weight below (her large stomach, etc), and not from above.

      Imagine it like an egg, if you hold it between your fingers at the top and bottom and try to squeeze it, it’s hard to smash it; but hold it from the side and it easily cracks.

  • Dale_anglo

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with you on your conclusion about it being “a part of the culture”.

    Slavery was part of the culture that largely led to the creation of the United States of America, but I doubt many would like to see it’s return? Just because something worked beforehand doesn’t mean it should still be so.

    • Fair point Dale! I understand what you are saying but I am more hung up on the fact that I am being told riding elephants are bad. Are riding horses bad? Camels? I am not doubting that there are those that have treated theses elephants cruelly, I get that that. But that doesn’t mean every single elephant handler in the history of elephant labour has treated them poorly.

      • Dale_anglo

        Personally, yes, I do see riding horses as bad, and the same goes for camels and donkeys. I don’t see why another species should be burdened by our needs to be carried or have things carried. If I force a human to carry by load without first thinking about if they’d want my load on their back, I’d be heavily criticised for treating people like slaves.

        Also, I’m not saying that every elephant handler is bad, but those who do would be arrested in an instant if they treated a human in the same way.

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  • Your initial excitement about riding elephants was similar to how I felt about the various Tiger Kingdoms. I thought ti looked awesome getting up close to tigers but the more I thought about it and the more research I did, the fantasy in my mind turned uglier and uglier. We didn’t go in the end. We went swimming with elephants in Laos, I didn’t feel comfortable about the riding them at all. They seemed to be looked after well. I think we originally planned to go somewhere similar to where you went, a sort of rehab for elephants but in the end it didn’t quite fit into our itinerary/was a bit expensive. Kind of wish we’d gone now.

    • Yah I wanted to go to the Tiger Kingdom but didn’t because what you point out. Sad but makes sense. Can we really expect wild animals to cuddle with people/potential food? Crazy. Hope Laos was incredible otherwise though! I spent very little time there and hope to get back soon.

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