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An Eden for Elephants

March 10, 2014
One of the reasons for selecting Thailand as a vacation destination was my desire to interact with elephants. I’d hoped to experience them in India last year but saw very few. Later, I was told that Thailand was the place to experience pachyderms. I even joked that I was looking forward to experiencing an animal I wasn’t too fat to ride.


I noticed the importance of elephants in Thai culture even before leaving Bangkok and flying to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand for our pachyderm experience. Statues and pictures of elephants were everywhere, as prevalent as images of bald eagles in the States. My surprise at the absence of elephants was reinforced by the ubiquitous images of them surrounding me. I’d expected to encounter them in the streets, much as I’d seen camels in Northern India, but like live bald eagles they were elusive.




Stupa with elephants.


Finally, at the Elephant Nature Park 60 km north of Chiang Mai, I saw my first live Thai elephant, and began my fascinating yet painful education of these magnificent creatures. At the dawn of the twentieth century there were approximately 100,000 elephants in Thailand. There are now fewer than five thousand. Elephants were used to supply the world’s unquenchable desire for teak. Then in the 1980s the timber industry was outlawed in Thailand to preserve the remaining forests. Elephants no longer had jobs and most were sold to vendors for the tourist industry. These elephants were expensive to maintain and not always treated well.




In the 1990s, Elephant Nature Park was created as a sanctuary for rescued elephants. Here, the animals were allowed to live much as they would in the wild. Sticks were no longer used to punish elephants that didn’t obey human commands. Instead of corporal punishment, only positive reinforcement in the form of  food treats was used. For an abused elephant, this must have seemed like heaven.




The elephant filling this picture was sold to someone who beat her terribly. She became pregnant and gave birth, but her owner wouldn’t let her tend to her baby and it died. Depressed, she refused to follow commands. The frustrated owner took a sharp stick and blinded her. The Nature Park came to the rescue, purchasing her for three thousand dollars and bringing her to the sanctuary. The second elephant in the picture, a longtime park resident, stepped away from the herd to greet the new arrival. Exploring the stranger with her trunk, she soon discovered the damaged eyes, bellowed, and entwined her trunk around the blind elephant as if to say, “I’ll be your eyes.” The two have been inseparable for ten years.





We were afforded an opportunity to experience these elephants doing what they enjoy most, bathing in the river. Buckets were handed out allowing us to toss water at them, but elephants are bigger than I’d imagined and throwing a bucket of water high enough to reach their backs was challenging. Mrs. Chatterbox must have had trouble distinguishing me from an elephant because she doused me with more than one bucket of water. Experiencing these gentle giants playing in the water like children was exhilarating.


There are approximately thirty-five elephants at the park, mostly female. It didn’t seem like that many elephants until we started feeding them—these guys can pack it away. The boys like to fight with the females and often lose; they’re kept separate, but not always. Babies are born at the park. At the conclusion of our stay we traveled to a section of river where two elephants guard the Park’s newest resident, only three months old. The elephant on the left is actually the mother. On the right is an injured elephant from Myanmar. What you can’t see is the missing rear foot, blocked by the baby elephant. The foot was blown off when the elephant stepped on a buried land mine. In spite of her ability to hobble around she wasn’t doing well at the park until the birth of this baby, when the mother enrolled her as a nanny. Now, the injured elephant has a job and the two adults are happily raising the baby.




We humans can learn a lot from animals like these. I never got my elephant ride, but I did get a whole lot more.



The Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park has a website at 



This brought tears to my eyes. I'm so glad those majestic animals have this place~
By: Shelly on March 10, 2014
It's great how the elephants look after each other. Better than some humans.
By: PT Dilloway on March 10, 2014
it is tragic the way these animals have been treated by humans.
By: TexWisGirl on March 10, 2014
Wonderful stories, especially the blind elephants "eyes." Still, disappointed to not see you riding an elephant!
By: Cranky on March 10, 2014
These elephants could teach all of mankind a lesson on caring. Being an animal lover I just don't understand the cruelty towards these and other animals. Your photos and story as always gave me much to ponder. I am so happy you got to at least touch and elephant. You look very happy. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on March 10, 2014
These sweet animals deserve good treatment, and i'm glad they get it there.
By: mimi on March 10, 2014
It sickens me to hear of animals, any animals,being abused. There is no reason for it. Anyone who willfully abuses another living creature has no business enjoying life amongst the rest of us.
By: Scott Park on March 10, 2014
Oh I have seen some of these beauties before on another blogger's site. I'll paste the link below. You'd each love one another's blogs. Such gorgeous creatures.. such sad treatment. Thankfully there are caring people who protect and love them. Elizabeth Grimes' blog post about these elephants:
By: Hilary on March 10, 2014
Something about seeing that photo of an elephant bathing itself makes me smile. Elephants were used for warfare too in parts of the world, right? Be well, Stephen. It's great seeing that photo of you and Mrs. C. and the elephant. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on March 10, 2014
Some sad stories mixed into a wonderful experience.
By: Franklin Bruce Taylor on March 10, 2014
No animal on this earth suffers at the hand of humans like the elephant. This post made me cry. God bless the people offering sanctuary to these marvelous beasts. .
By: Akansas Patti on March 10, 2014
Heart-warming and inspiring. What a wonderful experience. Glad the ride went by the wayside. Thanks for sharing this.
By: Mitchell is Moving on March 10, 2014
It's a shame what humans have done to elephants... Great to see that there are places like this nature park to take care of them. The look on yours and Mrs. C's face while touching the elephant is precious!
By: Pixel Peeper on March 10, 2014
Elephants are so intelligent and compassionate, if only we would stop interfering with their lives. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on March 10, 2014
Did you see any of their paintings?
By: Val on March 10, 2014
Great story of your search for elephants. I've heard others tell how elephants influenced them.
By: red on March 10, 2014
I love this post Stephen.
By: John on March 11, 2014
Beat these majestic creatures? And they call THEM animals.
By: Al Penwasser on March 11, 2014
Elephants are such wondrous creatures. A beautiful and educational post, Stephen. Thank you.
By: The Broad on March 11, 2014
Wonderful stories! Elephants are magnificent animals.
By: Bryan Jones on March 11, 2014
So it's a proven fact that elephants are way more humane than humans are. How could anything but a monster cause the death of an elephant baby and purposely injure the mother. This breaks my heart. Thank goodness there is a sanctuary that protects these wonderful animals. I can only hope there is karma that pays back for cruelty and rewards for selflessness.
By: Cheryl P. on March 11, 2014
Majestic creatures! You and the Mrs. interacting with them must have been so memorable.
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 12, 2014
I have a huge soft spot in my heart for elephants (no pun intended), for their intelligence, their civilized behavior, and for the fact of their horrendous treatment by humans. Very moving post.
By: jenny_o on March 12, 2014
Made me cry too - what a wonderful place!
By: The Bug on March 17, 2014
Sad to view the harsh treatment given to such beautiful creatures
By: Out on the prairie on March 27, 2014

By: Sandi McBride on March 27, 2014
Had to stop sobbing before saying beautiful...and congratulations on Post of the Week Sandi
By: Sandi McBride on March 27, 2014
Love the story about the blind elephant. Very intelligent creatures. Congratulations on your POTW at Hillary's.
By: Suldog on March 29, 2014

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