There’s a lot to be said for living vicariously through the travels of your friends. With on-line blogs, social media sites and super duper travel literary portals such as ours, the possibilities are endless. My dear friend Lydia Terry has spent the last several months traveling through Thailand. Along the way she shares her adventures via email blogs to her anxiously waiting followers such as myself.
Lydia is a colorful writer with a deep love of nature and an even deeper respect for the animals who share our earth. Through her eyes we are able to live in places we could of only dreamed about and through her words spark the desire to experience it first hand.
One such spark ignited earlier this week as Lydia wrote of her visit to The Elephant Nature Park in the Chiang Mai province of Northern Thailand. Established in the 1990’s, they provide sanctuary and rescue for endangered Asian Elephants in a natural valley, bordered by a river and surrounded by forested mountains.
Like any non-profit Elephant Nature Park survives on entrance fees, donations and grants.
Unlike any non-profit, you can adopt an Elephant for $75 a year, provide a months worth of medical care for $25 or buy an Elephant lunch for $10.
Did you know that an Elephant eats 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of food per meal?
Your $10 donation breaks down to just 2 cents a pound, providing half a day’s meal and supplements for the hungry rescued herd citizen.
Visits to the park go beyond the superficial viewing of Elephants in a natural habitat. Your visit is a hands-on volunteer experience where you can roll up your sleeves and share in the feeding, cleaning and nurturing of your own adopted Elephant if you have one, or any of these loveable behemoths if you don’t.
With only 30,000 living Asian Elephants on the planet, the names and faces of these gentle giants come to life in the stories of their rescue; like HOPE the baby male elephant orphaned and brought to the sanctuary in 2002 when he was just 6 months young.
For more information visit: www.elephantnaturepark.org
And as told by my friend Lydia Terry in her story below:
An Awesome Day at Rehab
By Lydia Terry
In a far and distant land, where the largest beasts on earth call the shots, lives Hope. He wears a bell around his neck to warn everyone (4 and 2 legged) when he is coming because, depending on his mood, he can bring joy or wreck havoc. Since little Hope is a boy many of his tribe treat him with patience, amusement, and at times, disdain. He is very handsome and the story of his young life has gone from misery to mirth, which is why his antics are tolerated. Many a female (4 legged and 2 legged) have fallen in love with this rascal who is the star of the Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Reserve, the only elephant rehabilitation center in the country.
In 1996 an amazing woman named Lek, who is the daughter of a hill tribe shaman, began her dream to create a haven for the mistreated and handicapped elephants no longer needed in the now banned logging industry of Thailand.
Her story has been on National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and lauded by animal organizations all over the world. She even allowed Hilary Clinton to take a picture with her! It’s all on-line but I just wanted to give you some background on the most incredible day of my SE Asia experience.
The Center is one of the highlights of a trip to Chiang Mai. The elephants do no tricks, you can’t ride them through the jungle like many of the other elephant camps around but, you learn a respect for these incredible beasts as well as an understanding of the culture that domesticated the largest animals on our earth.
There are 35 elephants at the sanctuary, 200 dogs, many of them rescued by Lek and her team during the recent floods in Bangkok, water buffalo and 170 local people who work there keeping everyone fed and happy (4 legged and 2 legged).
The financial support comes from tourists who pay $75 dollars a day to visit the center, meet the “stars”, feed them, bathe them in the river and hear about their stories as well as the plight of elephants in SE Asia today. It’s sad…elephants blinded by hooks and acid, hit by cars, legs destroyed by land minds, one female came as a drug addict as her owners fed her amphetamines to make her work harder.
They are now cared for by the 3 full time vets, fed gourmet elephant food – watermelon, pineapple, squash and bananas, have their own personal mahout (keeper), and treated with the love and respect they deserve. Only 12 of them interact with the tourists, the rest not quite ready for prime time due to their backgrounds. Tourists can come for the day, overnight or for a week and pay to be a volunteer.
It was so incredible to experience their personalities, see the friendships and bonds formed among each other, and yes, the humor of these noble animals. Their eyes are so full of wisdom, their hearts so full of integrity. We watched one female who stood at the riverside where she holds homage every day to her mahout (keeper) who was drowned there 5 months before. Her cries of lament and tangible sorrow continue day after day, and her friend who stands untiring at her side and gives her solace.
The young mothers always have a “nanny”, an experienced mother who helps her learn how to be a mama, even scolds when she is impatient with the youngin’ and babysits when mama needs some “space”.
I was lucky to be there when Lek arrived as 20 dogs surrounded her immediately. Then, as she walked out to the feeding platform, elephant word got around (just like on the Tarzan movies) and her beasts came running, trunks extended for her touch, her smell, her magic. There was more than one of us crying as we watched this incredible display. And guess who pushed his way through the throng – Hope, the punk, as he threw his trunk around pushing his seniors away to get close to his mama.
I won’t go into details of their stories, if anyone is interested they can look it all up online. I just want to share the happiness of knowing there are such special people on this earth as Lek whose devotion and love extend beyond anything I have ever experienced before and whose dedication and work has awakened respect for these incredible animals in people all over the world; and one tiny woman who has alleviated so much suffering and has created an awareness for others to follow.
I will make my reservations for a week here next year and invite anyone to join me. The dogs alone are drawing me. The most incredible mixture of mutskies I’ve ever seen – Disneyland dogs to the max, all well fed, clean, flea and tic free – and totally spoiled by all the visitors. The antics they have contrived in competition with each other for affection are worth a documentary on its own. This was my best day ever!
For more information visit: www.elephantnaturepark.org