A thunderous roar echoed from all direction in this high remote mountain village. This kind of trumpeted sound can stop a dead man in his tracks. Luckily for me I haven’t budged one bit as I turned my head to see where the ominous sound was coming from. It wasn’t to my left, neither was it to my right. The roar continued to emanate from all direction; its deep echo vibrated me to my very soul. Then as if from nowhere the family of elephants emerged!
My heart filled with immense joy as the family of giants made their way towards our base camp. A grandmother in her 70s, another in her 50s, a pair of 35-45 year old sisters (one already bearing a child), one that was ready for child bearing, and a youngster aptly named Naughty Boy for his mischievous tendencies. Their loud cries moments earlier was turned into welcomed hellos as they ran towards us (mainly because they knew it was feeding time!)
No trip to Thailand would be complete without a visit to one of these sanctuaries. They aim towards the rehabilitation and overall better quality of life to these majestic animals. In Southeast Asia it’s widely known that elephants can be drastically mistreated in circuses, for rides, and overall just for horrible entertainment purposes.
I should note that I AM SERIOUSLY AGAINST the mistreatment of these animals in any fashion! If you’re riding them then you should be ashamed of yourselves. They take these beautiful creatures, strip them from their families, and break them down mentally and physically to obey human commands. The resulting damage is that they become a shell of their former selves, all in the name of YOUR ENTERTAINMENT.
Sanctuaries like the one I visited, among others, are in place to rescue these animals from their awful predicaments. They work towards returning them to a life of what they had before, however little left is remained.
At these sanctuaries you are able to feed, mud up, and bathe these beauties. It’s not all fun and games, trust me, as you’re taught about where they came from, what their personalities are like, and what the sanctuary is doing to help better their quality of life. A few personal stories of the elephants is shared among the patrons. If you can hold back the feels then more power to you as I could not. Hit me all up in the feels.
You get to also examine grandma to record data on her health to submit to the local vet. It’s this type of interaction that you can’t help BUT get attached to these animals. Honestly I like them more than some humans these days!
During feeding time and subsequent after is where you’ll get the most interaction with the elephants. The caretakers supply baskets after baskets of little bananas in which you can feed to the gentle giants. Left alone they can eat up the entire stash in short time! I was neither shy nor hesitant at all and dove right into feeding grandma as others ignored her. I got you ole girl! You can’t tell if they are taking a liking to you or your bananas, most likely the latter. Always the latter.
Once the feeding is finished they are left to roam wherever their heart desires. This usually means towards MORE food in the form of vegetation. Saying they consume a ton of food is a vast understatement. An elephant’s stomach is cylindrical in shape and about 75 to 90 centimeters long. It can hold between 30 and 90 liters of content. Despite this most of the digestion and uptake of nutrients is done through their intestines. This means they have to constantly eat throughout the day to get enough nourishment. Lucky for me I stashed a few bananas into my Karen shirt from the basket, ha.
The high noon sun was BRUTAL on everyone let alone feeling the heat as a giant beast. Once their bellies were full we headed off to the mud pools to lather them up in nature’s natural facemask. Elephants use mud, often times covering their entire bodies, as a method to cool down. Doing this also shield their hides from the unrelenting UV rays of the sun.
Not soon after did the group make way into the pool that one of the elephants decided it was bathroom time. Two large floating fibrous feces later the mystery was solved as we all reckoned it was Naughty Boy who was the culprit. They don’t sit still very long so once covered they beeline out of there, I would too after the two floaters we found, ha!
There was a river feeding into the compound near by, so like a conga line we all headed to wash off. Can you say you’ve given an elephant a bath? Well I can! I really think these animals have the right idea of staying cool: roll in mud and wash it all off! They will lie on their sides once in the water so it is best you don’t get on their blind side! Their sight and hearing is awful, but their sense of smell is impeccable. Won’t do you any good if you’re crushed because they couldn’t see you.
Pro tip: tandem teams of three or four are the way to go when tackling this immense task.
The washing being the last of the activities it was time for the humans to have some lunch. The fine women of the Karen people provided the meal of the vegetarian variety, in which I scarfed down in no time. Soup, vegetable curry, rice, and a plethora of fruits were on offer. All was extremely delicious from what I can recall shoving in my face.
During the meal our guide explained to all us all they are doing at the sanctuary. From conservation of the grounds to procuring elephants from all over that are being mistreated. They, and the Karen people, actively work together with local organizations and vets to assure all of the family members are in good health standing.
The bulk cost of admission was divulged to us as the food intake for these big animals. After seeing them eat all day I can’t imagine footing the bill at lunchtime! This small price, for me at least, was worth it all in the name of saving these gentle giants.
If you get the chance to be in this part of the world do yourself a favor and get educated on this topic. Do your research as some sanctuaries do mistreat their elephants! Contribute your money to the ones out there doing it for the right reasons! Have fun on a day with gentle giants, you won’t regret it.