The Day Do Do Stole My Heart
Picture this – you walk into a large open national park area where you see three elephants happily walking around, playing and spraying muddy water all over themselves and munching away at leaves and bananas. Freely being able to roam the area, not restrained by chains and free from the heartbreaking scars caused by sharp metal hooks that are so commonly used on these beautiful innocent animals for the purpose of tourism. This is Nong’s elephant sanctuary park, she has dedicated her time to her elephants that have been rescued from both the tourism trade and those targeted by poachers in the wild. She is known as ‘The Elephant Whisperer’. To fund her project she allows a maximum of ten people per day to interact with the elephants and create awareness of the cruelty shown towards these creatures.
Each of the elephants have their own trainer which are dedicated to helping them recover from their past traumatic lives. They train the elephant to allow people to feed and ride them (no saddles) and also to collect food for the rest of the herd. Both Nong and the trainers have so much affection for these extraordinary animals that they treat them like their children.
Many people will argue that this is still inhumane the fact that these animals are trained and ridden. However you have to ask yourself, do we not train and ride horses? Do we not have animals as pets that we train. If an animal is treated with love and cared for there is no harm in wanting to look after it, particularly if you are helping it recover from something traumatic.
As you can see in the pictures, one of the elephants has a rope around his neck, this is Do Do. He wears a bell so that the trainers know where he is at all times. Being a teenager he tends to roam and there is a threat of poachers in the national park, so it is for his own safety.
After getting changed into our uniforms – comfortable and simple coloured clothes, we had a class where we learned to speak elephant, how to act around them and a lot of interesting facts about the species. We were told how they were rescued and how the tourism trade was promoting the violence and abuse towards many elephants and how to tell if an elephant was happy or annoyed. It was now time to help feed them bananas and get a little thank you kiss from ‘Do Do’ the youngest and most mischievous 14yr old elephant. With the help of the trainers we were boosted up onto the elephants bare back with nothing but their skin to hold on to, and began to ride the elephants. I, being the solo traveler, was ‘lucky’ enough to be riding Do Do and lead the way for the older elephants.He walked straight over to muddy river and sucked maybe 5 liters of water up his trunk and spurt it all over his back…well all over me. He continued doing this for about five minutes to cool himself down. To be fair it was a really hot day, I was drenched and covered in mud and I could not stop laughing. Every tree he passed he had to rum his bum up against and have a good scratch and his ears were flapping and tail wagging the whole time – this was a sign of happiness. He broke branches from trees with his trunk and happily ate as we walked, something that would cause a beating from most other elephant riding.
After the ride it was time to help bath the elephants, give them a nice scrub and check for any scratches or anything worth worrying about on their bodies. We led them down to the river and all of them just lay down in the cool water and enjoyed themselves as we scrubbed their skin. Do Do, being a typical attention seeking teenager, spurt water everywhere from his trunk.
At the end of the day the trainers brought out the newest baby elephant. He was slightly scared of us and we could only approach him one at a time very slowly and feed him our watermelon rinds. He ended up hiding behind his trainer when he was scared so we let him go back to his mother.
Overall it was the most amazing experience, I would highly highly recommend this to anyone and everyone! Don’t choose to support the violence towards these innocent creatures by choosing the cheep alternative, riding animals stolen from the wild to be saddled up and beaten. Spend the extra money and support something that will steal a little piece of your heart forever.
The name of the park is Chiang Siam Elephant Training School In Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. All photos are taken by Nong and her cousin who put them onto a disc and drop it off to you free of charge.