A visit to Elephant Nature Park

by FieryTree on January 21, 2015 · 3 comments

Post image for A visit to Elephant Nature Park

Ten plus years ago on my first trip to Thailand, I found myself on top of an elephant in a basket bumping down a path as a baby elephant trailed behind us. The mahout (elephant wrangler) guided the elephant’s actions by yelling and jabbing his wooden knife into the elephant’s skull. This and seeing the baby struggling to keep up with the parent put me over the edge and the experience ended in tears. It was then a desire to never ride an elephant again was born.

Elephants are weaved throughout Thai culture though and since coming back to Thailand I’ve pet, feed, passed on the street, and now bathed them. Only that last experience took place at a location that placed the care of the elephant over profit though: Elephant Nature Park (ENP).

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ENP was setup to be a permanent home to many of the mistreated and abused elephants who spent their life in logging, trekking or as other entertainers. Here unlike other elephant camps, they do not have to work but are left to eat vast quantities of pumpkin, watermelon, bananas, and cornstalks; about 250 pounds worth. Their eating takes place over an 18 hour period and part of that time is being fed by the visitors.

Feeding the elephant was a highlight of the trip. Their trunks are amazing. They are incredibly strong and yet nimble allowing them to collect all of the pieces of outstretched watermelon (their favorite) and pumpkin (less popular). The ENP website provided that their trunk is about 2 metres long and weighs around 140kg (308 pounds!!!). A video during the van ride to the site gave a list of rules for being around the elephants and one stressed how you did not want to get hit by the trunk. Certainly not if it is 308 pounds!!

Our visit was quiet and relaxing with more time spent watching the elephants then interacting with them which was fine because while they are gentle, they are also massive and could easily squash you (or at least that’s what I kept thinking). Other rescued animals roamed the grounds from the hundreds of dogs to water buffalos and cats too. Our guide said pigs, rabbits and even monkeys had also been rescued but sadly we didn’t get to see them.

I’ve defined what our day looked like with the “Single Day Visit” tour below but will turn this post over to photos now.

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Feeding the elephant from the platform.

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Watermelon was very popular over pumpkin.

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I was fascinated by the dexterity of their huge trunks!

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“You have noms?”

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Their oldest at 80 years old, retired from a life of tourists riding her back.

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How my face looks in most pictures: a mix of “I’m touching an elephant!!!” and “please don’t kill me!”.

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The youngest of our group with the oldest of theirs.

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This herd had two who had been injured from land mines.

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Curious boy.

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He eventually wandered over to the visitors which was a no-no as it included one of the nanny elephants guarding him.

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Some of the free roaming albino water buffalos, the baby was so cute!

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Mommy and baby elephant.

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A baby elephant also nurses with its mouth.

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Feeding the 80 year old.

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Some of their stockpile of food to keep the elephants fed. Volunteers cut up the watermelons as one of their chores.

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Kitten time! The lady behind was proving what a challenge it is to herd cats and kept handing them to James to put them back behind the tiny fence.

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This is my “OMG a kitten!” face, at their Cat Kingdom.

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James was the first to dive in to wash the elephant.

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The mahout had the task done quickly.

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Taking my turn to throw buckets of water on her.

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Anywhere in the water was the “splash zone” as the elephant was washed from both sides.

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Another set of elephants we were able to interact with.

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Slightly more comfortable with the elephants later in the day.

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The elephant in the background had me scrambling out of the way of moments later. Yield to all elephants!

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Photo opportunity (although different kind of splash zone.)

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Hours later and still eating.

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Baby and his mahout.

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On to the meal of corn stalks.

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Moments earlier, our friend has been sitting on the tire before the elephant decided it needed to play with it.

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Group of elephants and babies we watched.

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Elephant calves playing.

Here’s what our day looked like for the “Single Day Visit” tour:

  • van ride out to the camp (about 90 minutes), through lovely scenery
    • video shown with ENP rules and then a TV show about elephants and the park
  • feed a group of elephants, from the platform: watermelon and pumpkin
  • walk out and touch their oldest, an 80 year old elephant, retired from trekking
  • watch a herd of 4, which included a baby, relax in the sun
    • 2 of the elephants in the herd were victims of landmines and babied the affected foot
  • vegetarian buffet lunch with tea or coffee
  • free time for about 45 minutes
    • opportunity to watch documentary
    • we skipped the documentary and instead:
      • fed the 80 year old elephant from before
      • spent money in the gift shop (hey it’s for a good cause!)
      • wandered a bit
      • found “cat kingdom” where I held kittens, a highlight for me
  • “wash” an elephant, which consisted of throwing buckets of water on it
    • we were instructed to not touch her while she ate (because she was ornery) and she ate the entire time
  • touch another set of older elephants, including Jokia, a blind elephant featured in the video
    • she’d lost her site due to her mahout stabbing her in the eyes when she refused to work after the loss of her baby
  • take more elephant photos
  • quick break
  • walk to another group of elephants with 2 babies so no touching
  • final refreshment of cookies and tea before heading back

The price tag for the day was about $75, each, which felt a bit expensive (especially with my focus of attempting to live on “Thai prices”) but I thought of the admission as more of a donation to keep the elephants fed. With 42 of them, 5 tons of food is not cheap!

If elephants are a goal for your Thai trip, this is definitely the place to go. The elephants are treated with dignity (and are definitely the stars), you can photograph them to your heart’s content and get to see them in their natural state: eating.

 Visitor tips

  • As the video will warn, be aware of your surroundings! In all cases, the elephants have the right-of-way!
  • Hat is definitely recommended as much of the park is in the sun.
  • Grab a snack for breakfast because the lunch is huge!

Visiting

  • Various tour packages are available, including overnight or volunteering opportunities.
    • Our visit was $75 each for the day and including lunch and transportation there and back.
  • ENP will pick you up at your hotel or residence to take you to their site.

Web resources

 

Connect with me in the comments –

Have you ever touched an elephant? Ridden one?

If you’re too busy, leave me a thumbs up or down!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dawn January 21, 2015 at 7:12 pm

wow! What an amazing experience!! I totally want to go there. I’m not a fan of zoos any more, but preserves & sanctuaries are awesome! Thank you so very much for sharing your incredible experience!!!

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2 FieryTree January 23, 2015 at 12:17 pm

Hi Dawn! It was pretty incredible and you could tell the elephants knew that they were in charge there. They went where they wanted with only minor prompting to not crush the tourists. You should definitely come to Thailand! 😀

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