Finally I got to spend time with elephants. I went with a friend a few weeks ago to Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand. Most of the elephants there have been rescued from heartbreaking situations but now, happily, they'll never be abused again. And the Park is not only a refuge for elephants, but is also home to some 400 dogs and countless cats all co-existing in relative harmony.
Do not get in the way of an elephant butt rub
Before lunch, we got to bathe an elephant in the river. It's a bit hokey but a harmless way for us to interact with them. Our group bathed a lovely lady named Kathong. She's new to the Park and still healing after stepping on a landmine a year ago.
She's not the only elephant there recovering from a landmine. Another Park resident was in the hospital for three years, but Kathong's injury is the most recent. She's still shy and keeps to herself but didn't seem to mind munching a basket of fruit as we splashed her with buckets of water. And, of course, her mahout was by her side.
Kathong and her mahout, an amazing fellow.
He is her comfort and protector and hangs out with her in the field
all day, everyday. At night, he returns to his family who live in one of
the mahout huts at the edge of the forest. You can see them in the background.
I appreciate that the Wikipedia page on mahouts includes a link to Elephant Nature Park. It's a nod in the right direction, The hooks, bludgeons, whips and chains used by traditional mahouts have no place at the Park where everyone is treated with compassion, respect, savvy and buckets of treats.
Elephant Park's newest family.
In the afternoon, after an amazing vegetarian feast, we took a walk with our guide. Along the way, we met this mama and her baby. The calf was an orphan who had come to the park, and been with his new mother, for only two weeks.
Who could object?
Of course, we all stopped and oohed and awed and started clicking away. We didn't think anything about it. After all, we were their well-wishers and delighted to see the new, happy family. But mom had a different take on things.
Mama doing what mamas do
She came around the fence, and her mahout followed her as she followed us, but it wasn't until our guide clued us in that we finally got what was going on.
And stay out!
He quietly warned us not to run but quickly follow him slowly away, and pointed us towards a larger group about to enjoy a tasty dinner. After that, the new mother turned and went back to her calf.
After a day of eating it's dinner time
All in all, being around elephants, for even such a brief time, was not only delightful, it recalibrated my soul and, no, I don't care how corny that sounds.