My mum's one request on our trip to Thailand was to visit the elephants. I think we were all very ok with that idea and started planning. We decided to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai the first full day we were in the city. It so happened to be New Years Eve and I think it was the best way to ring in the New Year.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project that began in 2014. The people of the Karen-hill tribes in Northern Thailand and Chiang Mai locals were worried about the well being of the elephants and so this company was born. There are 9 camps with over 30 elephants who had been mistreated and worked their entire lives until now. Now they are able to roam free in the spacious outdoor locations and spend the rest of their days happy and healthy.
We decided to do a full day tour which began with being picked up our hotel around 8am and be back at our hotel around 5pm. The drive was quite long and hilly but it was beautiful to see another part of Thailand. When we arrived we crossed a flowing river to be greeted by 5 female elephants. They are truly extraordinary animals and I am so glad I was able to see them up close and spend a day together. Asian elephants are an endangered species due to poaching, deforestation, abuse, increased tourism and farming. That is why a sanctuary like this is so important. The elephants who live here are free from danger and harm. They live not only as a family within the elephants but also the people who work there. We learned that each elephant had a person who they trusted, sort of like a human best friend. If they felt scared or nervous they would find their person and be calmed down right away.
Each elephant was unique in her own way. There was a 5 year old 'baby,' who was quite small and a little bit more timid than the ladies of the group. She did not like the pumpkins we were feeding her but wanted all the bananas! When it was time for a mud bath and bath in the river she opted out because she didn't think it was warm enough outside (I agreed!) She was so cute and her mum was also at this camp which just made me so happy they weren't separated. There was also an expecting mother elephant who had been pregnant for a year, only one more to go! It was amazing because she was visually larger around the torso part and it was because of the baby, so amazing. There was also an older elephant, she was about 45 years old. She was always interested in food but often would walk off on her own to eat alone since the others ate quicker than her. I guess she was sort of the old grandmother figure in a way that just wanted some peace and quiet once and awhile! Whichever elephant you were feeding or spending time with was equally unbelievable and it was an experience of a lifetime.
Our day was filled with activities but also some down time, for both us and the gentle giants. When we arrived we were taught about the animals, how to feed them and interact with them, how old they were and why they were there. Then it was time to fill up our pockets with bananas and pumpkins to feed them. This was truly amazing and hilarious all in one. They slobered all over our hands but that was totally ok with us. They also continued to reach into our pockets to try and sneak an extra piece when we weren't looking.
After all the feeding and photos we let them relax, walk around and continue to eat, while we ate too. We had lunch served by some of the women who lived at this camp as well. It was delicious and definitely what we needed for some energy for the afternoon.
We then made medicine balls for the elephants. In the wild elephants consume enough fibre and walk enough to be able to go to the toilet easily. However, as these are domesticated elephants they need a little help sometimes. We made these fibre balls in a large mortar and pestle, a mix of sticky rice, oats, bananas, tamarind and many more, made little cookie dough like balls.
After we made those we put them away for the end of the day. Next came the mud bathing and cleaning off in the river. Something I chose not to participate in but those who did looked like they were having a time. At the end of the day we fed our medicine balls to the elephants and they ate them right up! It was like a treat to them. Then we had to say our goodbyes and be on our way. This was a truly memorable day and end to 2017! I would highly recommend it if you are ever visiting Thailand.