People hear about Thailand and immediately think “oh you can go ride elephants!”, but in reality, many elephants in that business are not treated well by their owners. The various elephant sanctuaries in Thailand purchase elephants (funded by donations) from these owners to save them from abuse. We got the chance to visit one of these elephant sanctuaries. It costs ~$100 USD per person, but it’s cool to see elephants up close and the money goes to a good cause.
Each elephant has a story of what it spent its life doing while in captivity such as elephant riding, or illegal logging, etc. Some even have injuries like broken hips from their past abuse. But now they get to live out the rest of their lives in the sanctuary.
The santuary is not just for elephants, but for cats too! There are also dogs lazing about as well.
We started the tour off with feeding the younger elephants. Even though they’re only a few years old, they’re still huge. It was cool to feel the elephant grab an entire bunch of bananas with its trunk and put it in its mouth. For a brief moment, I felt the scaly skin of its trunk, covered in dirt, brush against my hand. The reason elephants are covered in dirt is because the dirt protects their skin from the sun.
We got to pet a few of these elephants. I learned that elephants actually have hair! Some elephants had less hair due to their abuse. The guide explained that when they are used as riding elephants, they tend to lose a lot of hair from people climbing on and off of them. Their skin feels scaly as one might expect, but the sparse hairs are quite stiff – kind of like the bristles on a toothbrush.
It was so hot that day, they went playing in the river. It was probably the hottest day of the trip so far. So hot that I really didn’t want to move out in the sun.
This guy came running right for us. The guide said some of these elephants were the same ones we fed, and so it was possible they recognized our scents thinking we had more food. There are no fences in between humans and elephants, and there are attendants everywhere that the elephants listen to.
The guide told us that the more sunken in the elephant’s head is at its temple, the older it is. As it ages, the air inside the elephants skull slowly leaves, which causes the sunkeness. I definitely noticed this between the smaller/younger elephants and the larger/old ones.
Be sure to check out Mike’s video about the elephant park. It’s got clips of us feeding the elephants and us trying to dodge them as they charge toward us. There’s even an elephant that peels the bananas before eating them!
Going to this place was totally awesome and I definitely recommend it for anybody travelling to Chiang Mai. For the rest of the pictures of the elephant sanctuary click here.