So, if you are looking to ride an elephant or to watch one paint a picture, then you will be disappointed. Tourists are tolerated because the park needs to fund their rescue effort. We are NOT the priority. It is a good park to visit if you do not prioritise your own enjoyment over the elephants' right to live as elephants.
Many of their elephants are injured. Some are blind.
Jokia: The Blind One
The story of Jokia was particularly awful to listen to. Jokia was a logging elephant. The rescuers noticed that she was blind and queried the owner, "Why are you working this blind elephant? How did she get blind?" After some haggling and persistent sleuthing, they discovered that Jokia was made to work the logging trails right up to the day she gave birth. At the moment of birthing, Jokia was pulling logs high up on the mountain. She was tethered to the logs. Her newborn, still in its birth sac, rolled down the mountain cliff. Jokia was frantic. She could not get free to save her baby. Elephants love babies. They love babies to the point where they will experience false pregnancies.
After her baby died, Jokia refused to work. Her mahout used the elephant hook to gouge her skin. That is the common way to tame an elephant. You break its spirit. Jokia simply refused to get up and work. Her mahout gouged out one eye. Jokia used her trunk to sweep her mahout away. This enraged her mahout even more. He gouged out the other eye.
Elephants love babies. The herd will always form a body wall around the little ones to ensure that they are safe. A baby's distress call will bring the whole herd running and they are NOT friendly to whomever upset their baby.
Medo: The One With the Broken Hip
Tourists get to pet, feed and bathe the tamer elephants. I saw an elephant limping away from us at quite a distance. I asked. That one was injured during a forced mating. Elephants, like humans, choose their sexual partners. When baby elephants command a market price of 2 million baht (SGD$80,000), the humans don't allow that choice. The female elephant in estrus is immobilised in a steel and concrete structure. The bull elephant will come and do what he wishes. It is rape. Pure and simple. Anyway, the bull elephant is strong and he is NOT gentle. This poor young girl elephant had had her hip and one leg broken during the intercourse.
Thong Bai: The Old One
One particular elephant was 90 years old. She was so old that another elephant challenged her as herd leader. She lost the contest and went away to be by herself, without a herd. In nature, these elephants die. They are so old that their teeth and digestive system cannot process the high fibre diet. They either starve to death or are attacked and eaten by predators. They willingly leave the herd to die alone.
Buys and Maintains Elephants
The Elephant Nature Park buys the elephants they rescue. Elephants are considered property. It does not matter how intelligent they are nor how humanlike their emotions. They all had owners. Once bought, the park lets them roam on land donated by Bert Von Roemer of the Serengeti Foundation. The elephants are also fed using donated funds.
Elephant Chooses His/Her Mahout
Each elephant has an attending mahout. I was very touched by the sight of a mahout hugging and kissing his elephant. The elephant actually responded affectionately too. There was clearly a bond. I commented on this to our guide. She said, "Here, the elephants choose their mahouts, not the other way around. Sometimes, there are mahouts that all the elephants avoid. Then we know that that mahout has been abusing the elephants behind our backs. The elephants become very attached to their mahouts and they will be grumpy and depressed on their mahouts' off days."
Time Can Drag
It was good to see the elephants in their natural state. It was good to know that our tour money went to a good cause. It was heartwarming to see the mahouts cuddle their elephants like they were dogs or horses. However, the day dragged on. There were many breaks where we sat around and did nothing. I would have been happy to pay the same price for a half day experience, minus the breaks. That way, I would have had an extra half day to do something else.
You can really go up close to pet the elephants.
If a baby approaches you, you run. Babies can wail for strange reasons and if one wails, the rest of the herd will come and stomp on whomever they think frightened their baby. This baby sent a group of tourists running. One tourist dropped her water bottle in her hurry. The baby found the bottle and then had great fun trying to burst it like you and I burst bubble wrap. Then it climbed up on the log. It had to be enticed down with a basket of watermelon. I was too close to the baby and had to skedaddle at the end of the video because a huge nanny elephant was bearing down on me!!