Day 275: Playing with Elephants – Patara

I never knew how much I would love elephants until Ryan and I went on safari in East Africa about two years ago.  It was there that I discovered how special they were.  They are powerful yet gentle, large, loving, and protective.  Just watch them when they think their babies are being threatened and you’ll see what I mean!

Babies:  We met two newborns, just a few months old.  The male was quite aggressive while the female was docile and sweet.  It was amazing to see the difference in their personalities at such a young age!  One of the main differences emerged when one particular visitor decided to get a little too friendly with the male calf.  Before anyone knew what was happening, the calf charged the young man.  He didn’t hurt him, but he was strong enough to push him to the ground.  It was pretty funny.  The same visitor approached the female calf as well, and she was much more shy, curious, and gentle.  That’s her below, giving me a hug!

When we decided to do a Round the World trip, one of the experiences we most wanted was to visit the elephants near Chiang Mai, a large city in the northern part of Thailand.  We had been researching elephants and discovered that not only are they hunted and killed for their ivory in Africa, but they are abused and exploited in Thailand as well, though for different reasons.  In Thailand, they are forced to do backbreaking work, but that’s only after they have gone through what is called the “Crush”.  Babies are forcefully taken from their mothers, tied up, beaten, poked with sharp objects till they bleed, and sleep-deprived until they have been “broken”, their spirits crushed.  Then they are put to work, either begging, logging, or carrying heavy chairs with multiple tourists seated on top, working until they are either injured severely or die.

We participated in two elephant experiences, and we learned a lot about what happens to many elephants in Thailand.  Their numbers are dwindling and it is heartbreaking.  The two Elephants Camps we visited both help to raise awareness and rehabilitate abused or wounded elephants.  Below, I will share about our experience with one of them, called Patara.  They are a very hands on organization that teach you all about elephants, what keeps them healthy, how to know they are being taken care of, etc.  We were also taught how to feed and care for them, how to talk to them, clean and bathe them, and finally how to ride them in a way that brings no harm or damage.

The special thing about Patara is that you are given your own elephant, so there’s no crowding, pushing in to get close, or over-stimulation for the elephants.  Below are a few photos from our lovely day at Patara.  Photos below taken by Patara, edited by Deena

Feeding:  Feeding an elephant yourself helps to make friends quickly.  “Dee dee, Mamoon” means “Good boy, Mamoon” (my elephant’s name).

Brushing:  Clean skin is important to an elephant’s health, so we worked on rooming the dirt and dust from their skin.

Bathing:  The elephants really seemed to enjoy this part of our interaction.  They love being in the water and enjoying its coolness.

Elephant Shower!

Elephant Shower!

Here they are above, teasing us by spraying us with water.

Riding the Elephants bareback:  If you’re going to ride an elephant, this is the best way to do it.  Many operators will offer guided tours on heavy chairs placed high on an elephant’s back, and will have two or three people ride at one time, but this is really harmful to an elephant’s spine, not to mention painful.  Please avoid experiencing an elephant in this way.  The less demand for these types of practices, the more likely it will eventually be stopped.

We have many more photos of the kids, but we’ll include them in their blog entries.  Ok…more on elephants later!

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