It feels a little strange to consider our recent trip to Thailand and all that has unfolded since we departed. In Chaing Mai, there was no evidence of the political turmoil that the people were experiencing in the southern areas in and near Bangkok. However, recent reports in the South China Morning Post indicate that Chaing Mai is feeling the effects of the military takeover. I am sure that tourism will be down. Tourism in Thailand in the last year was already down by 20% even before the current strife. This decline in the economy is sad for a number of reasons . My heart goes out to the four-legged friends we met recently.
The lack of tourists to Chaing Mai is most concerning for the animals at the Elephant Nature Park that relies on tourist volunteers to feed and care for over 39 rescued elephants and 200 rescured dogs and cats as well as a number of water buffalo. Visiting tourists have the opportunity to learn about the situation for elephants post logging in Thailand and to feed and bathe these sweet and gentle animals. It is an enourmous task to keep these creatures fed and the visitors not only help by working, but the fees paid for entry to the park assist in purchasing the food and medical supplies needed to keep the park running.
Since logging was banned in 1989, elephants still suffer. The ban left over 3,000 logging elephants essentially homeless. No longer needed, they were left with no purpose. Anyone can own an elephant. They are considered livestock and the homeless elephants were used as sideshows for tourists and until very recently, were used to beg on the streets in Bangkok. The Elephant Nature Park started to buy injured and exploited elephants giving them sanctuary and a quiet home. Some of the elepahnat here are over 80 years old.
Additionally, the park works to train mahouts (elephant owners) throughout Thailand and in Cambodia to work with elephants in humane ways. The process of taming the elephants is a horrific and sinister process. We watched a film that showed the process, and I could not stand to watch or listen. The park founder Sangduen “Lek” Chailert has proven that there are humane methods to train elephants to be with people and is working to spread the word.
Currently the park has raised three elephants that were born in captivity to be released back to the wild. However, the danger of poaching is too great for this to happen very soon. It is estimated that there are just 1,500 wild elephants left in Thailand.