I’ve been at the sanctuary for 4 days. Monday was a bit of a whirlwind just getting checked in and acclimated. Chores started at 8 am on Tuesday morning. Each person was divided into 4 groups and each group was assigned different tasks for completion twice per day. Tuesday morning, my group started off cleaning up elephant poo. I promise you this, I will never complain about picking up my dogs’ poo ever again. If you consider how much elephants eat (200-600 pounds of food a day), that gives you an idea of how much they poo. But, as the old saying goes, “many hands make light work” and before we knew it, our group had walked the entire property and cleaned up everything. Tuesday afternoon, we did an elephant walk. This involved us being guided through the property to observe elephants at a close proximity and learn about them. All but 3 elephants were acquired and rescued from private owners. Depending on the elephant’s age, the cost can vary between 300,000 Thai Baht (about $9,000 US) to 5M Thai Baht (about $153,000 US). The reason ENP decides to purchase the elephants is because it gives them ownership rights and no one can ever come and try to take them away. Three of the elephants have been born here and have only known humans to be loving and caring. Each elephant chooses its own mahout. A mahout is someone who cares for and tends to the elephant. These mahout are trained by generations who came before them and the elephant picks their own mahout. ENP never forces an elephant to be paired with someone they dislike or distrust.
The baby, currently 2 1/2 years old, plays with his mahout, follows him everywhere and truly loves him. I was able to get a photo of the two playing on an elephant size jungle gym.
ENP is the first to say that they are not perfect. Unfortunately, due to the abuse these elephants suffered before their arrival, they cannot be left in the wild. So, there are enclosures to keep them safe at night, but during the day, they are free to roam as they like. Ideally, the elephants would be freed and live out their days without any human contact. But many of the elephants need constant medical care and supplemental dietary additions. But, the elephants here are treated with love and respect and seem peaceful.
On Wednesday my group assisted in the “elephant kitchen” to prepare some of the supplementary food that the older elephants, without teeth, get to aid in their daily health. Some of this food consists of bananas, melon, squash, and sticky rice prepared in coconut milk.
Afterwards, we were escorted to one of the oldest, more gentle ladies and able to feed her by hand. She graciously and gently accepted bananas from each of us. I could have visited with her all day. I could feel her breath through her trunk, and the power she possessed, but at the same time she had such a gentle spirit. Her skin was tough but fragile. She is blind in her left eye, but trusts her mahout to keep her safe.
Today it’s raining, and I chose to stay under covered shelter and have some alone time to reflect on my experience so far. It’s truly been an experience of a lifetime. I sit here with the rain pouring down beside me, and elephants trumpeting in the foreground. It’s so surreal. I have dogs curled at my feet and wish this was my everyday life. Sadly, this time is passing all too quickly and I’ll be home before I know it. Until then, I’ll relish every moment.