Volunteering At Elephant Nature Park, Chiang MaiReading Time: 5 minutes
I have heard somewhere before that every single person should try volunteering at least once in their lifetime, to know what it feels to help without expecting anything in return especially when its for a good cause.
Me and Monika, we both share big love for animals and nature, so when I came across Elephant Nature Park’s website and found out about their activity in trying to save and look after abused elephants in Thailand, I instantly new that this was an experience I needed in my life. It didn’t take long for us to start saving and plan our visit to Thailand, which later on turned out into almost 3 months backpacking trip around South East Asia!
Of all the elephant parks in Thailand we could have gone to, THIS was the only one we felt confident about — we knew our time and money would do good here. Make sure you research any sanctuary and its activity before making the final decision as there are many fraud and cover up activities that do not care about animal well-being and are another horrible money orientated tourist trap.
One week of volunteering costs 12,000 baht (about £275 GBP in 2017). This includes transport to/from the park (from Chiang Mai), your accommodation, and all your meals for the entire week. You’ll also get a volunteer t-shirt on your first day.
The rest of the info and answers to all your questions you can find on their official website!
Most of the people perhaps never even thought that elephants lately are already on the lists between endangered species in Africa as well as Asia. As a matter of a fact, elephant as an animal is being glorified and adored by the local people all around Asia, especially Thailand. Wherever you will go you will find the decorations or souvenirs of elephants as it is believed to be a lucky charm. Paradoxically, it is also the most exploited and tortured animal at the same time, especially in the sector of tourism. All of these, currently 71, amazing giants living here have been rescued from tourism, illegal logging, circus, street begging and each comes from the different background with it’s own story.
Eighty percent of the elephants coming to the park are already blind or half-blind. This is the main consequence of circus lights or mahouts, beating elephants with the hooks in order to control it.
Our experience and first impressions started on the way to Chiang Mai as we have been shown a documentary about the intelligence of an elephant as well as been taught how to approach this giant and treat it with the biggest respect.
Once you are settled down in Elephant Nature Park, your day starts very early, around 6 am. It may sound challenging to be up at this time, but now you have to keep up with the daily regime your new big buddies are practicing. And no, you don’t really need to set an alarm – the pleasant sounds of the elephants trumpeting outside your bungalows followed by low vibrations will wake you up.
All the volunteers are divided into groups to visit the shelters where elephants stay overnight. Other daily tasks include walking with elephants, washing up, chopping the watermelons, bananas, pumpkins and other snacks as well as unloading the trucks to prepare food.
Be ready to roll up your sleeves and clean up the biggest piles of what the giants have done throughout the night.One of the biggest highlights of this experience was elephants daily bath time by the river side.
Working as an elephant keeper (mahout) is not certainly respected in the local culture and doesn’t have a high reputation. In order to change the perception and point of view, Elephant Nature Park puts an effort to educate people and build a better image about this position.
The whole family of a mahout can be hired to work at the park regarding their own capabilities and wishes. Besides that, the children of these families receive all the support needed to attend the local schools and get educated. So far, this community seems to be expanding a lot recently.
Elephant has to go through a series of horrendous tortures in order to become a fun thing for a ride or get a round of applause for some tricks at the silly circus show.
Whenever you take a ride, an elephant has to carry the chair that weighs around 80 kg itself apart from yourself, another person and its keeper.
It’s good to know that all the baby elephants that have been born here will never experience such an awful things, they won’t be forced to work and will never have their spirit broken.
Unfortunately, not everyone gets along so easily, after being through so many emotional meltdowns, some of the elephants resist getting over their past and they don’t fit in.
Enjoying the most delicious vegan food, and the view, of course! You can have a peek to the pictures and read all the stories while sitting at the lounge and having your afternoon coffee.
On our last day, we’ve been delighted to meet Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, the founder of Elephant Nature Park and take part in the discussions, watch a very dramatic documentary as well as hear her brilliant speech. Chailert has devoted her life to the conservation of this endangered species and is better known as an Elephant Whisperer.
We both feel completely blessed with this rare opportunity and it’s definitely not the last one.