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Elephant Sanctuary!!!!!

THAILAND | Wednesday, 24 May 2017 | Views [383]

Today I was picked up at my hostel for the trip to the elephant sanctuary. I was the only one that day from my hostel that was attending, but I had met Jeff (from California) and his Canadian friends Connor and Matt at the hostel the prior day. Also in the van with us were 3 French girls Laure, Garance, and Melanie. We had a few other Germans on the experience with us but we did not chat with them much. The ride was about an hour up into the mountains from Chiang Mai and once we got there we changed into shorts and a denim short sleeve shirt that were provided by the camp. This was for later in the trip so our clothing was not wet when for our trip home. They also gave us a lovely straw hat to wear. At this camp they had a few pens set up to keep certain elephants separated. There was a baby there named Johnny Walker and apparently a few of the adults do not like him. The pens are not all that secure, they are more of a guideline. We were told that the elephants can let themselves out if they really want to, at least once a day they find one of their elephants wandering the fields out of its pen where it shouldve been. There was also an adult and another baby penned up separate from the other group of pens. When we first drove in, I saw that they were separated and that the adult had a rope around its foot, I was not happy. It is a big deal in Thailand the way that elephants are treated. There are a few sanctuaries where hooks and ropes are not used, and riding is not allowed as well. This camp I was at was one of the few that are good to all of the elephants. They explained to us that the two were off to the side and the adult had a rope because they were both brand new rescues to the camp. Jackie Chan (the baby) had been rescued 2 weeks earlier and the adult had been there for 3 weeks. They were still working on getting adjusted back to non-working elephant life, so they were not ready to be mixed in with the others yet. The guide told us that the adult elephant could snap the rope if it decided to take a big step, again more of a guideline.

Once we learned about how things worked at the camp, they had us fill up bags with bananas and sugarcane and put them over our shoulders. They then let out about 6 elephants and they came hustling toward us, they knew the drill. We feed them to gain their trust and then we hang out with them for the rest of the day. It was amazing getting to feed these beasts. We were taught how to read the elephants to know if they were happy or pissed off. You hand the banana or bunch of bananas to the elephant’s trunk or you can put it directly in the mouth. Normally the trunk is basically in your bag ready to take all bananas anyway. It was pretty funny, if you gave them one banana at a time, they would normally just keep holding them in their trunk until they had 5 or 6 stored up, then they would pop them in their mouth. And when they ate, it was the whole banana, peel and all. Most of the time they would even eat the part of the tree that all the bananas were hooked to as well. There were certain elephants that would rip that part away since there was no fruit on it and drop it on the ground. They would use their feet with their trunks to tear off leaves if they didn't feel like eating those, it was incredible. When eating sugar cane, they also ate the bark and all, they didn't care. We fed them for about 40 minutes, petting them, letting them get to feel us out and know our voices. Elephants remember voices rather than faces when getting to know someone.

After we fed them all, we took hoses and gave them water and then sprayed them down. We just put the hose near their trunk and they suck it down to store it. They are able to store an incredible volume of water (I do not remember the exact number) then they spray it into their mouths to drink. Once they were not thirsty anymore, we sprayed them down. Johnny Walker (baby #1) loved the water. Once we started to spray him, he would come to the edge of the pen and try to grab your hand with his trunk. If you let him hold you, he would start to run to try to play tug of war. This youngster was pretty strong, so the best bet was to try and slide your hand away after a few seconds. I tried to pull back one time and he quickly put a little more strength to his pull and he pulled me about 2 steps along the side of the cage. He would also try to slap people in the shoulder with his trunk, another way he plays. When we sprayed him with water, he really likes to be sprayed under the chin. When we did that, he would start rolling around on the ground like a puppy. It was absolutely hilarious. The adult elephants enjoyed the showers for the most part as well, if they didn't, they would just walk away.

We then prepared a medication for the elephants to help them poo. We made this paste which consisted of salt, sugar, bananas, and a few local roots that I do not remember the names of. We mushed up all the ingredients with a huge mixing stick and would crush the ingredients against the bottom of the mixing bowl. It turned into this yellow/brown diarrhea looking paste, which we then used our hands to take some and smear it on banana leaves. We would then wrap up the leaves like a Subway sandwich and tie it off with a small vine like rope. We fed about 5 of these wraps to each elephant, they do that every day.

Next we took about an hour to eat lunch. The camp provided us with some Thai food which was pretty good. We were then ready to go on our hike with the elephants. We went on a hour and a half walk with 5 of the elephants, it was so fun! We loaded up our bags with sugar cane and used it to coax the elephants to follow us. The guide taught us the terms to tell the elephants to “Get moving!” - “Pai!” and “come with me!” - “Maa pet”. We just walked along with the beasts and they always were getting nosey with their trunks because they knew we had goodies in our bags. As we walked through the trails up the mountains, they would frequently stop and decide they want some greens. They would grab small trees and take the parts they wanted and leave the rest, they would frequently get distracted by all of the food around them. One of the most interesting things about the elephants is how dainty they truly are. We were going up some steep slopes and going down some as well, which caused me to need to go down sideways or else i would have slid down. These elephants could handle these slopes no problem, avoiding the big rocks and sort of tiptoe down these slopes, I was shocked. About ⅔ the way through the hike we came to a mud bath area. The elephants obviously knew what was going on here and they all went into the mud pool. Lee, our guide, she told us that it was our turn to get muddy as well, so I took off my flip flops and waded into the knee deep pool of mud. The elephants laid down in the mud and we used our hands to cover their backs with mud. Once we got moving again, we were on the final leg of the journey down to the river and most of the trail was a decently steep downhill slope. Somehow Laure and I were talking and got out in front of all 5 elephants and at one point we had an issue. We hit a part of the hill where it took us humans a bit to carefully get down the hill without sliding, but the elephants didn’t need to be careful. The front elephant was ready to go down the hill and we were in its path. Laure started freaking out and we couldn’t really just step aside on the path because on each side of us was very tall grass and we did not know what was on the ground in there. So I just grab Laures hand and we basically start running down the mountain. After about 30 seconds of running away from an elephant stampede, we get to a flat area where the grasses subside and we are able to step to the side as these elephants keep barrelling down toward the water. It was both a rush and hilarious, hearing the screams of this girl and looking back to see 2 of the elephants right behind us, not stopping. Anyway, we survived. We had a short walk at that point to get to the river and once we made it to the water, the elephants were very excited to be there. Several of them walked in and laid down in the water. The water was just about waist deep on me and for the smallest elephant, it was deep enough for it to put its entire head underwater. I was a bit confused when he first did this because his whole head was beneath the surface for quite a while. I then walk to the other side of his huge body and see that his trunk is peeking up out of the water like a snorkel. He just sat there for about 5 minutes with his head beneath the surface and we were using pails to dump water on him, scrubbing with brushes to get the mud off. Other elephants would take up water in their trunks and spray it at us while we rinsed them off, it was a great time! We played with them in the water for about 45 minutes then the elephants headed back to the camp and we walked over to our van and we showered off and headed home. Man this was an incredible day, it started off a little rocky when I saw that the 2 elephants were penned off to the side and the one had a rope around the foot, but it ended up as one of my favorite days on this trip, hands down!

Dumbo came through for me....


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