Thursday, March 5, 2009

Washing elephants in Thailand

For lack of any adoption news, I thought I'd blog on another love of mine, animals.

Last year in October, I was supremely lucky enough to go to Thailand on vacation for a few weeks. It was an amazing trip. I went with my parents, and my mom happens to be an Educational Travel Tour Guide who goes to Thailand frequently. So she knows all the good restaurants, hotels, shopping spots, massage areas, elephant sanctuaries, etc.

For two days while in country, I got to stay at an elephant sanctuary called Elephant Nature Park. While there I got to feed rescued elephants, and walk them down to the river and wash them. What an exhilarating feeling!

The Asian Elephant is in dire straights, abused horribly (I'll leave out the details, but the scene in Slumdog Millionaire with the eyeball? It happens to MOST of the ellies as part of the "breaking" process, along with extreme torture for days, many ellies not surviving the ordeal). The founder of ENP, Lek, is this tiny (physically) woman, but so huge in my esteem. She is teaching the Thai people (though they are resistant and have poisoned some of here favorite ellies to teach her a lesson about going against the Thai culture) about positive reinforcement. She is training the ellies to do what the locals need them to do, and giving them treats as rewards. Just like dogs, it works much better than punishment. Ellies are very smart. Here she is showing us how positive reinforcement works. Sigh. I love this woman, and wish there were more like her.

Here are some things NOT to do, when visiting Thailand. For example, I had no idea is was harmful to buy bananas and feed street ellies. I learned at the Nature Park that eating bananas all day causes diabetes and they really should be foraging and eating grasses all day. Also, do NOT ride the ellies! They have saddles that are not placed correctly and hurt their backs. They are made to ride tourists around for 18 hours per day. It hurts them. The mahout (trainer) is the only one who should be riding them, and he rides on the head or upper neck.

I got to sleep overnight in one of these huts.In the morning, I opened up the bamboo windows to see the sun rise over the mountains, and the ellies in the green valley trumpting their "Good Mornings" to each other! It was fantastic! I highly recommend you visit, and donate some of your hard labor or money.

So go to their website and donate! Help them teach the Thai people a new way of handling their beautiful elephants. The Thai seem to be such a gentle people, so friendly with tourists and worshipping Buddha on every corner.... but for some reason this kindness doesn't extend to elephants, who have been used as beasts of burden and warfare for centuries. Be careful WHICH "sanctuary" you go to. Any so-called "sanctuary" that has "shows" is not doing the best thing for the ellie.

And off topic, here is a picture of a boy who was begging on the river. My dad took this picture, I think it's heart breaking. He is in a little tin bowl, and paddling with a stick. We only had a few hundredths of a Baht to give him (less than a cent), but he was still happy with that.

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