About a happy and an unhappy elephant.
Already when we arrived at Chiang Mai airport the ads of animal shows and tours were right in our face. Petting foxes in a fox coffee shop, trained rabbits lifting weights, snake shows, monkeys on bicycles, ox cart riding, petting tigers (and no, they are NOT drugged…yeah yeah) a crocodile show or … elephant riding.
Every year millions of tourists flock to Asia to enjoy a variety of exciting attractions as diving, exotic beaches, jungle hiking, visiting hill tribes or Buddhist temples. Often on top of the list of things to do is an elephant ride.
“I want to see the elephants” Johan said a few months before our holiday “but I am NOT going to ride them!”
To be honest, I hadn’t thought about it.
“But sometimes this is part of a jungle tour” I said.
“Don’t you know with how much cruelty they are forced to obey?”
We started reading about the elephant camps.
Elephants have been used in the logging industry (loading cut trees) for centuries, however, due to the forest depletion, the government banned cutting trees in 1989 and started National Parks to protect the forests. At that time 20% was left of Thailands forests.
Unemployment from the logging industry left elephant owners in desperate need to make a living. That is when the elephant riding tours started. Lots of tours also include feeding, and bathing the elephants in the river and lots of tours use the buzzwords “elephant conservation” or “eco-tourism”. So how do you know you booked the right tour? It is not so simple finding a reputable place that cares about and protects their elephants. Already in Holland we found the “Happy Elephant Home” on internet. On their homepage was written:
Why choose Happy Elephant home? Our day has been designed to give you a wonderful experience without riding, hurting or exploiting these beautiful animals.
“This one sounds OK!” I said to Johan and so we booked it online.
In Bangkok we got an email where they asked our room number in Chiang Mai for the pick up at our hotel.
Just arrived at “The Terrace Guesthouse” I replied to them with the number and a enthousiastic: “See you guys tomorrow!”
But that night we were talking to some locals and they told us “Happy Elephant Home” was fake!
“We know the owner. One day he uses the elephants for eco-tourism and the next day he uses the same elephants for rides.”
We were shocked!
Right away I sent them an email that we had to cancel the tour, because my husband was ill. We were introduced to somebody who knew the people behind Elephant Nature Park, Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary or Dumbo Elephant Spa. The ones you could trust they were not hurting the elephants.
So our second day in Chiang Mai we went to The Dumbo Elephant Spa. This park is home to 6 elephants. The older elephants are rescued from the tourism trade or the illegal logging industry. The elephant owner has decided to earn an income in a more ethical way.
We were collected at “The Terrace Guesthouse” at around 08:30 AM in a minivan to join the rest of our small group of 6.
On arrival we meet our new friends: four adult elephants and a baby boy of only 4 months old. One elephant is wandering in the jungle and comes once in a while to the village. We start with feeding the elephants bananas (including the peel) and the inside part of pineapple. For the calf we peel the banana or we give him watermelon.
One of the adult elephants even allows us to put food directly into his mouth and to give his tongue a rub.
We have a break for a Thai lunch and help the wife of the elephant owner with the cooking.
After a visit to a waterfall we scrub the elephants in a mud bath followed by bathing them in the river.
Here our Youtube-video, including shots of our mud bath together with the elephants:
Music: Just a perfect day written by Lou Reed, in the BBC Children-in-need-version with Bono, David Bowie, Tom Jones, Joan Armatrading, Gabrielle, Boyzone, Elton John and many more.
(click on the link to see the video)
At 2.000 Bath per person (50 euro) this isn’t the cheapest tourist activity, but the experience is priceless! It’s heartbraking to know that there are elephants not so fortunate, but change is coming as tourists become increasingly aware of the cruelty involved in the elephant tourism trade. More and more traditional elephant riding camps are following in the footsteps of Elephant Nature Park and The Thai Elephant Conservation Centre.