During my two week visit to Thailand this December, I had the opportunity to visit the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) near enchanting Chiang Mai. ENP was recommended by one of my passion-driven coaching client’s @elephantsoulcrafts who works tirelessly to bring awareness to the cruelty elephants are facing in Asia. In reading more about ENP’s sanctuary and rehabilitation centre, I felt not only drawn to see one of these divine creatures up close, but privileged to have the opportunity to enjoy their presence and contribute to their healing.
While taking an elephant ride, seeing an elephant show or having a painting done by an elephant may seem like a harmless, exotic even ‘cool’ act, these beautiful plant eaters continue to face so much strife for the sake of human entertainment and pleasure.
During my day visit to ENP, I learned about the heart-wrenching past of ENP’s rescued elephants and the remarkable truths of these immense, but sensitive mammals.
Elephants, like humans, can live up to 70, 80 even 90 years if in good health. They have highly developed brains meaning they cry, play, laugh and maintain an incredible memory. They’re highly sensitive and caring beings. At one point during my visit, a baby elephant strayed from its family and began to cry. Immediately, the herd responded and ran toward the sound of their young. Once reunited, they encircled the baby elephant and shot wails of praise with their trunk which have more than 40,000 muscles!
Unlike most parks in Thailand, Elephant Nature Park does not offer elephant rides and most of their elephants have been rescued from such tourists’ attractions.
Did you Know
Elephant spines are not made to support human weight and can cause serious long-term harm. At ENP, there is a herd called “the handicapped family”. They got their name because each of the elephants in the herd is handicapped from elephant tourism, particularly elephant riding. One of the elephants visibly had a broken spine and this was caused from elephant riding. While some elephant centres and sanctuaries offer rides on elephant necks claiming it is stronger than the back, this doesn’t exclude the fact that serious training and taming is required in order for the elephants to accommodate a tourist.
The Ugly Truth about the Industry
Because so many tourists still long for the exotic elephant experience, illegal capture and trade for their use in the tourism industry is an ongoing problem.
Wild elephants won’t let humans ride on top of them, so the elephant must be tamed. This process is called Phajaan, or “the crush”, which involves taking the baby elephants away from their mothers and confining them to a small space in order to ‘break their spirit’. The baby elephant is tortured; beaten, pierced with hooks, starved and deprived of sleep in order to crush their knowledge of freedom and free-will. After enduring this process for days, even weeks, the baby elephant then complies with the trainers instructions.
Seeing the scars of the elephants at ENP and hearing of their past lives was truly heart-breaking. In addition, many of the elephants are blind because of tourist’s camera flashes in their past trades. Here is a disturbing video which reveals the ugly truth elephant’s continue to face for our entertainment.
Our Past does not determine our Future
It is always within our power to live passionately and compassionately in spite of our past experiences. Just because this is being done to our animal friends and is an industry humans have contributed too for many generations, it does not mean we have to carry on this way.
Most people participate in animal cruelty without being completely aware of how animals are treated. Compassion can be practiced by simply not contributing to the problem. Say “no” to elephant riding and other animal activities we often do for human entertainment, but are destructive to animals. These include, but are not limited to: circuses, animal street performing, zoos, aquariums, horse racing, animal riding, and marine parks.
Instead, support local or foreign sanctuaries and rescue centres, and if you can volunteer! You won’t regret time and money spent with animals, especially when love and healing are the foundation of your intentions.
My time at Elephant Nature Park, walking, feeding, hugging, bathing and standing eye-to-eye with these delicate animals was truly life-changing. These immense creatures only want what we’re all striving for: Freedom. Be their voice by making responsible, compassionate choices. You’ll be surprised how life-changing observing animals enjoying their freedom can be.