Friday, November 7, 2014

Elephant Retirement Park

Contrary to popular belief, riding an elephant is not humane. In fact, because of being ridden, and the way in which they are treated by many resort staff, these elephants often end up with both physical and mental health problems.

The Elephant Retirement Park, which is just outside of Chiang Mai, gives a new home to ex-riding and ex-logging elephants. Out of the 6 elephants living at the park, the oldest is Bipho, who is 45 and the youngest is her daughter Nong Chang, who was born at the park just 7 months ago.

The day started off with a pickup from our hostel, where we were driven, along with the 7 other girls in the group that day, to the park which was about an hour away. 

When we arrived we were given a quick brief on each of the elephants - age, name, background and personality. We were then given an hour to spend time with each of the elephants in small groups. Now, coming from someone who's a bit iffy around dogs, I can promise you that elephants are the most gentle, lovely animals ever! The youngest ones, like any baby mammal, were a bit mischievous and have little sense of direction (aka you may find one trying to walk through you rather than next to you), but I can assure you the elephants are super safe to be around, and of course if they weren't, Elephant Retirement Park wouldn't let humans near them!

We stroked them, fed them, got to know them (with lots of selfie-taking in between), before taking a lunch break which was a traditional Thai buffet.

After lunch we changed in to old clothes and then headed down to the big mud pit to give the elephants a massage, which both the humans and the elephants loved! The mud was literally like sinking sand, once you put your leg in it is impossible to get out!! We were covered head to toe in mud, and for anyone trying to avoid getting dirty, the staff will chuck some mud at you if the elephants don't get you first!

We finished the day by taking the elephants over to the large pond to wash off. With each person given a bucket and brush each, we were free to get close and personal with the elephants, just as any elephant-keeper would.

I think what stood out most about the Elephant Retirement Park is that not only are they never ridden, but they are free to roam across the whole plot of land, and are never forced to do anything. You will not see any chains, whips or other inhumane tools here.

The elephants are treated amazingly, with love and care - just how people treat their family pet, which is how it should be. How can we call one animal a 'man's best friend' and objectify another, merely for entertainment?

If you've considered riding an elephant when you next go abroad please please think before you act. Why not try and find an elephant sanctuary, like Elephant Retirement Park, who refuse to ride or harm the animals in any way, and instead care for them after years of abuse.

For more information about the Elephant Retirement Park click here, and to find out more about elephant-cruelty in Thailand click here.

Shona x

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