Why I chose to visit Elephant Nature Park plus a guide to help you choose an ethical sanctuary
The award winning Elephant nature park opened in the 1990s but it wasn’t always the ethical haven to elephants as it is today. Back then there was a daily elephant show where you could watch elephants preform tricks and elephant rides. Thankfully, this all changed thanks to one woman’s mission- Sangduen (Lek) Chailert. Lek’s goal was to run Elephant Nature Park purely as a rescue reserve. And it’s safe to say she achieved that goal, and the some.
Since 1992 Lek’s mission has changed the lives of many. Below is a list of 10 remarkable achievements Lek has made on her journey so far:
1. Lek has helped save over 200 elephants since the 1990s.
2. Is well known for her campaigns against elephant crushing.
3. Teaches about the ethical treatment of elephants at universities and other elephant camps.
4. Was invited to Washington DC and honoured by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton as one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation in 2010.
5. Has won multiple awards for her conservation work. Including, Ford Foundations “Hero of the Planet” in 2001, The Times magazine’s Hero’s of Asia in 2005 and honoured with the “Responsible Thailand Award for Animal Welfare” in 2018 plus many more.
6. Lek and ENP have featured in multiple international publications such as National Geographic magazine.
7. Has featured in documentaries on National Geographic, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet plus more.
8. Is the Founder of Save the Elephant Foundation.
9. Encourages other countries to join her mission.
10. Provides education such as the Saddle off Project, provides sustainable alternatives to local communities and helps to preserve local culture.
Lek’s life mission has made positive change not just at the park but globally.
A short story
Whilst I was at Elephant Nature Park I learnt many interesting things about Lek and ENP. Something that stuck with me was this story.
One day an owner of an elephant riding camp sought Lek’s help. He had lost all his money and out of desperation and fear of losing his camp, he sold two of his elephants to a circus. He had a few elephants left so Lek supported him by renting the elephants until he was able to look after them again. Whilst at the camp, Lek showed the elephants love and compassion and absolutely NO riding. Lek helped to change the mans camp and when he was ready he returned for the elephants. He sat with Lek and watched the elephants until he began crying. Lek asked him why he was crying and he said “I’ve never seen a happy elephant before.” And so from there on he changed how he cared for the elephants. All he needed was love and compassion.
10 things I learnt during my time at Elephant Nature Park
1. ENP have 17 camps under their umbrella and has helped 40 camps to STOP elephant riding.
2. Has saved over 5 forests & mountain ranges by donating arabica beans to local villages in order to stop them from burning the forests for mushrooms.
3. BTS sky train Bangkok sponsor 10 elephants at the park.
4. Accommodates over 400 rescued dogs, cats, birds and water buffaloes as well as elephants.
5. Elephant droppings are used as a fertiliser to grow organic food and 80% of food is sourced from local villages and the other 20% from volunteers.
6. 75% of ENP mahouts are refugees from Myanmar. Mahouts are given free accommodation, visas and can legally stay in Thailand with their whole family. Mahouts and their family members are often given jobs at the park and Lek pays for their children to attend school.
7. All food provided for guests at the park is vegan.
8. If a neighbour elephant park/camp is struggling with business ENP will donate food for their elephants.
9. Owen Wilson is a park ambassador.
10. The park has won numerous awards including the Smithsonian Award.
Elephant mahouts go as far back as the 13th century where elephants were used for riding and work purposes such as logging. The phajaan (crushing of elephant spirit) is used in order to control and ride an elephant. This tradition is embedded in not just Thai families but many families throughout Asia. With more and more awareness being raised this tradition is slowly but surely being broken.
With animal tourism becoming more and more popular World Animal Protection found that 75% of wildlife tourist attractions are having a negative impact on wild animals. Not all sanctuaries are as they claim which is why I decided to share my experience at Elephant Nature Park. I spent a lot of time researching before making my decision to visit and chatting with guides at the park in order to write this blog post.
The best way to see any animals is in the wild. But, if you do decide to visit a sanctuary here is a quick guide to help with choosing the right one:
- Always do your research. Never make a decision based solely off of a sanctuaries website. Not all sanctuaries are genuine.
- Read reviews. Once you’ve looked at a sanctuaries website you must read their reviews. Look on Trip Advisor, Facebook and other review sites. Do NOT just look at the reviews on their website.
- Check if they have any conservation efforts. A good sanctuary will have plenty of these in place.
- If you use a tour company ensure their policies support 100% ETHICAL tourism. Again, read reviews.
- Choose a sanctuary with NO RIDING and NO BATHING.
- Bathing elephants has been known to cause the elephants infections in their ears and eyes.
- Animals are not props and should not be picked up or “held” in any way for photos.
- No chains, ropes or bull hooks should ever be used. Can you be sure this doesn’t happen behind closed doors?
Why I chose Elephant Nature Park?
As I previously mentioned I researched a lot about Elephant Nature Park before visiting. I truly feel that their work is ground breaking in the efforts to the better treatment of all animals. I love the work they do for the community. Their education programmes are raising awareness and teaching children from a young age how to be kind to animals. Ideally, the elephants would be completely free to roam but it’s not always in their best interests after a life in captivity. Elephants natural habitats are being destroyed at an alarming rate and so it gives me some peace that these magnificent creatures can spend the rest of their days being lovingly looked after in the best possible care.
Whilst at the park we spent the majority of our time watching and learning about the elephants from a distance. When we were allowed to feed them it would be for approximately 10-15 minutes. Only the elephants comfortable around humans would be fed. No elephants were forced to be fed or photographed under any circumstances. Their space was respected at all times.
If you’d like more information on elephants and why riding is harmful please click here
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