Heartbreak and healing at Elephant Nature Park

Written by on January 27, 2012 in Asia, Blog, Responsible Tourism, Thailand - 74 Comments

Mae Sai Roong lays on the ground. She looks so little compared to the throngs of people around here — the Elephant Nature Park volunteers, the vets, the mahouts, Lek — all scrambling to make sure she doesn’t give up on life just yet.

Every now and then, the old girl swings her heavy head up from the mound of dirt she’s resting it on. Swings her trunk to power her torso up, off the ground. Somehow, she manages to find the strength to do it. She looks around at all of us for a moment. Sits. Blinks.

We stand, frozen. Our hearts race. We pray she can stand. Fists clench. Hopes high.

Then, she gives up. Laying back down into the dirt.

The sigh from the entire group is audible. It echoes in the piles of dirt around us.

More scrambling ensues as people try to adjust the sand bags, the tires, the dirt, to contour to her body so she is comfortable, so her legs don’t lose circulation. So she doesn’t die in front of us.

Volunteers rush to move dirt to keep the elephant comfortable.

Me? I can barely watch this scene.

I had heard there was a sick elephant. But, I never imagined … this. This beautiful girl, her six tons so tiny on the ground. Her body nearly lifeless except for a few short whisps of air going through her trunk when she breathes deep.

After a lifetime of being in the logging and elephant trekking (giving rides to people like us) industries, they have taken their toll on this beautiful animal.

My last full day at the park isn’t supposed to be like this. It isn’t supposed to be sad. It isn’t supposed to be a reminder of the repercussions of what happens to these elephants who spend their lives delighting tourists who don’t know any better.

And yet, it is.

My day started out so promising. So happy.

Still glowing from the afternoon before and my time with Lek’s soft singing of “Que Sera Sera” to one of the park’s baby elephants, the sun finally came out Saturday morning, casting the entire park in that warm golden hue that sends little sparks of happy to the soul.

The sunny view over breakfast.

Over a breakfast of pancakes, Lucy, Katy, Adele, Marie and I sit, looking out at the park and the elephants making their way out on the grounds.

We all say the same thing. “They’re so beautiful.” “This week has been so amazing.” “I am so glad we learned about these elephants.” “I can’t wait to start spreading the word about why people shouldn’t ride them.”

We are all so happy.

Even after a morning of scooping, a few of us gather on the ledge of the medical shelter, simply taking pleasure in watching as the elephants stroll along with their mahouts nearby. As the water buffalo graze. As the visitors to the park explore the grounds for the first time with pure delight at what they were seeing.

I had my plan for the morning: to grab my camera, a soda, and go to the feeding platform and watch the elephants eat their buckets of fruit.

It sounded like the perfect way to spend two hours before lunch.

It never happened.

Instead, just as I am about to sit down to watch the blind elephant, Jokia, open her mouth in anticipation of food, Jack finds me.

“We need your help. There’s a sick elephant and we need to go fill sand bags. Can you come?”

Of course, I oblige.

Of all of the days for the sun to be out and strong, today is the worst for it.

Under the scorching sun and humid air, a group of 10 of us shovel dirt from the same mound that the elephants had rolled in two days prior when I had toured the park and gotten to be up-close with elephants.

Dripping sweat, we are quickly covered in a coating of flour from the bags, along with a layer of red dirt.

When the truck fills, some volunteers get in to go and take the bags to where the sick elephant is.

I opt to stay.

Then, after a few minutes cooling off under a tree, taking a breather from the summer sun, we’re back out, filling bags again. Only, when the truck fills up this time, we are all instructed to climb in and head to the elephant’s location.

I already know I don’t want to see it.

When we arrive, my heart breaks.

Jumping down from the back of the truck and seeing what was in front of me is something I will remember for the rest of my life. My own, personal reminder of why I will never ride an elephant or go to a circus or buy an elephant painting.

The image is burned into my brain.

So, this is what a dying elephant looks like.

Mae Sai Roong doesn’t move much. She lays silently, half watching as we form an assembly line and pass out sand bags, stacking them around her legs, trying to get her to re-position herself so she doesn’t cut off circulation in her back leg she is laying on.

Someone wraps a thick woven band under her belly.They are going to try to pull her up to a standing position with a crane.

Lek counts off, and the truck powers on, the crane begins to lift. Slowly, the Asian elephant’s body begins to elevate, but she fights it. She begins to fall sideways, looking horribly distressed as her eyes snap wide open.

“Stop! Stop!” People scream.

She is slowly lowered back down.

They wait a few minutes, and then, repeat the process. She again fights it. Her front legs coming out in front of her.

I choke on a sob and pull the neck of my dirtied T-shirt over half of my face so no one can see it is now covered with streaks of tears.

This time, when they begin to lower her back down, I turn around. I can’t watch this.

For a moment, she looks as if she might stand on her own.

As staff continue to work on the elephant and readjust dirt, tires and sand bags, Lek tells us to head back to the main building to get lunch, and then return with all of the volunteers when we are done.

The few of us still there race back to the group, find everyone else, and tell them what has happened.

I eat lunch quickly, filled with dread at having to return to Mae Sai Roong. I want to help. I just don’t want to see her suffering like this.

We head back after lunch and are immediately put to work digging. We need to move dirt from one spot to another and form it around her  body.

Mae Sai Roong hasn’t changed much. She still lays there, only the efforts to get her to adjust her weight have ceased.

Bananas go uneaten in the elephant’s mouth.

People try in vain to get her to eat. She doesn’t. Instead, she takes the cluster of bananas wrapped in a coil of her trunk and just leaves them hanging in her mouth.

A vet hooks her up to an IV. Someone else takes a mister and hovers over her body, letting the light wash of water cool her hot skin down.

Then, I hear singing.

“Que sera, sera …”

I spin around from where I am standing behind the elephant and see Lucy, Katy, Pam, Evelyn, Sarah, Marie and Adele, all splayed out on the mound of dirt behind Mae Sai Roong. They lay there, scooping up handfuls of earth and rubbing it on her back. All the while, they sing to her softly.

“Whatever will be, will be …”

I crawl up on the mound with them and take my hand in the dirt, rubbing it into her tough skin, scratching. I try to join in, but I’m overcome with sadness and instead of singing, sob.

Singing to comfort Mae Sai Roong.

“We all need somebody to lean on … lean on me …”

Singing more songs to her …

Each song takes on meaning as we lay there, not caring about being filthy, not caring about being eaten by ants. All we care about in that moment is comforting a creature in her last moments. In letting her know she is not alone.

We spend nearly the entire afternoon with Mae Sai Roong, and then head to another shelter to make a bed of dirt for another elephant who needs a little help getting up from sleeping.

The next day, the outline is evident from the elephant who used the dirt as a bed.

Even though our last night is special, and the park creates a feast of Northern Thai food for us, the mood is somber. Our group of girls go from happy to sad, smiles to tears, quickly.

After dinner, Lucy, Adele, Marie and I decide we want to return to Mae Sai Roong to see her. To likely say goodbye.

I know I can’t do it alone. It’s too sad. Too heart-breaking. Especially after the week I have had, the things I have learned about the plight of the Asian elephants.

As we walk down the dark path towards the sick elephant, we all grab each other’s hands for comfort, and united, walk up to her.

Now, a fire burns and only a few park staff are there. They will sleep with her, making sure she is comfortable the entire evening.

When we get there, she looks even smaller than she did earlier. Her mahout has moved the bags of sand, helped her re-adjust.

Around her, in the dark, I can hear elephants in a nearby shelter moving about.

“Do they know she’s sick?” I ask one of the staff members.

“They don’t care,” she says. “She doesn’t have any friends.”

Except for humans.

The four of us sit together on the gravel, silently. I let myself cry. Not just for Mae Sai Roong, but for all of the elephants whose fate is the same as hers. For all of the elephants who went through the Phajaan. The abuse. The treks.

We get up after a few minutes and whisper our goodbyes to the sweet girl, and then head to the river.

It’s Saturday night, and loud Thai music from another camp wafts down to us. We sit in darkness, watching the strobe-light fireflies blink past us. We cry.

The girls decide to return to Mae Sai Roong in the morning before breakfast, but I pass.

The memory I have of her is enough for me.

I fall asleep that night listening to the music. Thinking about Mae Sai Roong.

In the morning, the girls visit her.

A volunteer comforts Mae Sai Roong in the morning.

“She doesn’t look good,” Lucy reports as soon as I find her at breakfast. “I don’t think she will make it.”

I’m glad I didn’t go.

We all sit together at breakfast, quiet.

This is our experience. Together. And, as sad as it is, I cannot be more thankful I am experiencing it. I feel like this was meant to happen so I can truly understand what happens to these elephants and then come home and tell everyone.

We split off into groups on our last morning with an air of sadness lingering. We’ve all been through this tragic experience together and no one wants to talk about it.

Until …

“Do you see over there?” Jack asks, pointing his finger towards a blue tarp in the distance.

“What?” We ask.

“Mae Sai Roong,” he says. “She’s standing.”

Suddenly, the sadness is replaced with elation. She’s alive. She’s standing.

We all smile, grateful to have gone through hell in order to be a part of this momentary bliss.

And, deep down, I’m warmed thinking our love and support had something to do with the elephant’s little victory for the day.

[Editor's Note: Mae Sai Roong passed away a few weeks later. To read about her life, her death and more about how you can ensure other elephants don't face the same fate, please  read "Speaking for the elephants." And, check out "A Brief Education: The dark side of the elephant tourism industry." For even more information and reasons why you should never ride an elephant, read "Why elephant riding should be removed from your bucket list." It is up to each of us to help spread the word about the plight of the Asian elephants and how we can make an impact and send a message to not only the tourism industry, but to other travelers who want to spend time with these magnificent creatures. And, special thanks to Gabrielle Esi Aw, Julie-Anne O'Neill, Lucy Tallis and Pam Brace for photos.]

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

74 Comments on " Heartbreak and healing at Elephant Nature Park "

  1. Reg of The Spain Scoop January 28, 2012 at 5:14 am · Reply

    Very touching story. Poor elephant!

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 11:10 pm · Reply

      I am comforted by knowing her life now is filled with fruit, free from pain and filled with peace. :)

      • Sabine Zell January 31, 2012 at 11:17 am · Reply

        I cried reading your post. I met Mae Sai Roong in January 2011 at ENP. The experience of volunteering there was a life changing. I planned for it for 3 years and I will go back again in Jan 2013. Thank you for being there to comfort Mae Sai Roong. Elephants are extremely intelligent and highly social and can sense compassion and empathy in addition to apathy. I know having your and your friends you made while volunteering comforted her. It was a pleasure to scoop poop, plant trees, cut grass and scoop more poop for these ladies and (men). Captive elephants in the U.S. suffer just as much as Thai elephants. It would be wonderul if you could take a look at the bill link following that would help protect traveling wild exotic animals (elephants and tigers) you can make a difference everywhere… ~ Sabine https://www.popvox.com/bills/us/112/hr3359/report#nation

        • Diana January 31, 2012 at 4:20 pm · Reply

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the link, Sabine. You are right — we can make a difference everywhere. It was an absolute pleasure to do all of the other tasks associated with volunteering, the scooping, cutting, etc. It was all wonderful!! I am sure your next time at the park will be wonderful! I cannot wait to return! PS — I went to the link and left a comment and going to share with everyone. :) I also added the widget to my site to hopefully capture more people’s attention.

  2. Bret @ Green Global Travel January 28, 2012 at 6:08 am · Reply

    A heartbreaking story, very well told.

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 11:09 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Bret. :)

  3. Eric @ Trans-Americas Journey January 28, 2012 at 10:18 am · Reply

    Sad story. Anyone who has had the privilege to spend some time with an elephant in Asia — and I’m not talking about going for a ride on the back of one for an hour– will quickly understand what amazing creatures these are. It is possible to make a connection with an Asian elephant in a way that is not possible with almost any other animal except for a dog.
    During our four years backpacking around Asia we were luck enough to spend some quality time with elephants and, from traveling hours across the middle of nowhere India to visit Tara who was written about in the excellent book “Travels on My Elephant by Marc Shand, to spending a day bathing elephants in the river of Chitawan Nat’l Park in Nepal, to visiting a rehabilitation sanctuary in Sri Lankah for elephants displaced and injured by the war, the swimming elephants of the Andaman Islands, to visiting and doing a story for Outside Magazine on the painting elephants in Ayutthaya, Thailand…
    All of these encounters left a deep and lasting impression on us. It is always said to learn about the suffering of these amazing creatures, whether that suffering is caused by man (as it often is), or by natural causes.
    thanks for sharing this story.

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 11:09 pm · Reply

      I would love to read the piece you did for Outside Magazine. I am so glad you had the opportunity to spend time with these animals beyond the stereotypical riding, etc. I have heard about Tara and the book — it is on my list of things to read. It’s my dream to be able to work with the elephants again, more in-depth, and work to share their stories and help to influence travelers and tourists who plan on riding an elephant. The connection is powerful. Beautiful. And definitely does leave a lasting impression. Thank you for taking the time to read the story, comment and share.

  4. Alison January 28, 2012 at 10:22 am · Reply

    I was crying my eyes out reading this story! Its good to raise awareness as many people probably have no idea what goes on. I certainly didn’t. I have never rode an elephant and definitely never will.

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm · Reply

      Alison, I’m sorry it made you cry!! I cried like a baby living it, writing it. I’m glad it made you feel though. And, even happier you won’t be riding an elephant!! This makes my day!!!

  5. Stephanie - The Travel Chica January 28, 2012 at 6:47 pm · Reply

    You made me cry! It must have been difficult to write this and re-hash those sad memories.

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm · Reply

      I’m sorry, Stephanie!! If it makes you feel better, I can’t read it without crying, too. It was really hard to write it and re-hash. But, I also wanted to be sure people would experience it and understand. It is important to me to speak for the elephants and educate people on this topic.

  6. Jade - OurOyster.com January 28, 2012 at 9:17 pm · Reply

    Your posts about your experiences with the elephants are so amazing! Thanks for spreading the word about this… I think most people do not know these things

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm · Reply

      Thank you for the sweet comment, Jade! The experiences while I was there were so amazing, so life-changing!! I cannot wait to go back and share even more stories! I hope these posts did what I intended — to change people’s minds about riding an elephant and going into tourist activities as responsible tourists instead of just doing what they think would be cool.

  7. Nancy Sathre-Vogel from Family on Bikes January 28, 2012 at 10:19 pm · Reply

    Very moving story. It’s always so hard to hear about animals being abused – especially animals as majestic an elephants. Thank you for your efforts to spread the word to the world.

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm · Reply

      It is really hard to learn about the abuse of animals. Hopefully, one day people won’t have to write posts about elephants being abused. Thank you for your support and sharing, Nancy! <3

  8. Brooke vs. the World January 29, 2012 at 2:50 am · Reply

    This was sooooo hard to read :(

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 10:56 pm · Reply

      I’m sorry — I am sure it was. It was equally hard to write and experience. I just hope it resonates with people and helps them to decide not to ride an elephant or go to a circus, etc. Thank you for your support and sharing! <3

  9. D.J. - The World of Deej January 29, 2012 at 9:20 am · Reply

    What a story…one of the best I have read in a long time. Thank you for sharing, and thanks for the efforts you made for her…

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm · Reply

      Thank you. Your comment means a lot to me. The experience was very hard, very emotional, but it basically ignited a passion in me to go and share her story, and the other elephants, so people can learn about the tourism industry and how their actions can cause harm.

  10. Lauren January 29, 2012 at 9:59 pm · Reply

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with this incredible elephant. I am a regular volunteer at ENP and have had similar experiences with sick, dying elephants. There is an amazing bond we develop with these animals that cannot be denied and it is so sad to lose on that you have so quickly fallen in love with. But their legacy is the increased knowledge around the world about their painful working lives. We owe it to eles like Mae Sai Roong to continue telling her story and the stories of others like her. Thanks again.

    • Diana January 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm · Reply

      Lauren, I am so flattered you took the time to read this and comment. I hope to one day become a regular volunteer or long-term volunteer at the park. My time at the park awakened something in me I’ve never felt before. It made me realize the power of a few to make a difference, and that a little love can go a long way. I was so sad when I left Mae Sai Roong that night, but in the morning, when I saw her standing, my heart nearly burst with happiness. The tears of grief were replaced by tears of elation. Since I’ve been returned from the park, my life has taken a definite elephant focus. Other than writing, it is the thing I am truly passionate about. I wish everyone planning a trip to Thailand, or other countries where elephant rides, circuses, etc. are popular, and read about these experiences at the park and the impact they make when they support programs like this. It goes beyond a bucket list, it goes beyond justifying it with the excuse that “my decision isn’t going to change anything.” It can. And, hopefully, one day, when more people take a stand and opt for places like ENP over trekking camps, etc. around the world, the message will be heard loud and clear. <3

  11. Erica January 29, 2012 at 11:02 pm · Reply

    Oh D… wow. I am so bad when it comes to grief with animals. I couldn’t imagine the energy of the place during that struggle. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Bethany January 30, 2012 at 12:46 am · Reply

    I cried the whole way through. I adore elephants. They are truly incredible creatures – so smart, loving & social. I can’t imagine how hard it must’ve been for you to watch her struggle. But it really is an act of compassion that you could deal with your own sorrow to help comfort her. She was blessed and lucky to have been surrounded by such caring people.

    I am going to have to learn more about this place – I have wanted to volunteer at a elephant refuge for my entire life and maybe this would be a great spot.

    • Diana January 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm · Reply

      It was very difficult to watch her struggle. Absolutely gut-wrenching, actually. But, after spending time with Lek, the founder of the park, and watching how she could comfort the elephants with song, it made sense to share that with this elephant. It was hard to know she had no elephant friends and this was likely the most love she would ever get in her life. I am thankful I was a part of that. I would definitely suggest volunteering here. It truly is a wonderful sanctuary and will change your life. :)

  13. lesley January 30, 2012 at 2:33 am · Reply

    WOW! that would have been so hard, I cried reading this. As having had the pleasure of spending a week at the Elephant Nature Park and feeling how magical it is, you know what these beautiful creatures have been through. Your story was lovely to read and it was so good sharing it so others get to know the plight of the elephant.

    • Diana January 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Lesley. When I was going through it, at first I was absolutely devastated that it was happening while I was a volunteer. But, then, I realized it was a story that could be incredibly powerful. And, as hard as it was to experience, I had a responsibility to share it with readers. That week was truly magical – both the good and bad.

  14. Cole @ Four Jandals January 30, 2012 at 4:59 am · Reply

    You are bringing tears to my eyes at work!

    • Diana January 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm · Reply

      Oh, Cole! I’m sorry!!! Although, I am glad reading it stirs something. I hope it has the same effect on everyone and motivates people to be a part of the change towards elephant tourism in Thailand the rest of the world!

  15. Sandra January 30, 2012 at 11:57 am · Reply

    Thank you for this wonderful story. I have also volunteered at ENP and plan to go back soon. They touch your soul. I believe we all need to educate people and promote places like Lek has created.

    • Diana January 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm · Reply

      The elephants truly do touch your soul! I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had not gone to the park. It changed me. It is my goal to educate people and promote ENP, Lek and other places that do such good work like them!

  16. Christy January 30, 2012 at 5:34 pm · Reply

    What a heartbreaking thing to see. It’s so hard to watch animals suffering. :(

    • Diana January 31, 2012 at 4:33 pm · Reply

      It is. I’m normally the one who hightails it out when it comes to seeing animals suffer. I can’t even watch that one commercial on US television about adopting animals or giving money to the foundation, it breaks my heart. But, for this, I felt I HAD to be there to understand. To share. It tore me up, but in the end, I am so grateful I was able to experience it.

  17. Nomadic Samuel January 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm · Reply

    What a touching story! In general, I don’t think many realize exactly what is going on with the elephants. You’ve really shed a lot of light on this subject.

    • Diana January 31, 2012 at 4:29 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Samuel! I wrote this series with the goal of educating people about the asian elephant. Hopefully I was able to change minds about riding elephants and more!!

  18. Susan January 31, 2012 at 5:46 am · Reply

    I’ve been in Chiang Mai for over a month now, and I still haven’t seen *any* elephants (or tigers, or monkeys, or “long necks”), mostly because I’m worried about supporting unethical tourism. A few people have pointed me in the direction of the Elephant Nature Park, but after seeing Mae Sai Roong’s skinny little leg, I think I’ll still be holding off for a while.

    Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

    • Diana January 31, 2012 at 4:27 pm · Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. There are ethical places to visit in CM, like Elephant Nature Park. While it isn’t always easy, visiting the park is far more uplifting and inspiring than it is sad. This is a wonderful place for them, and you going helps to raise awareness to others. Perhaps you could do a day trip where you bathe the elephants, feed them and get to tour the park and spend time with them? The images might hurt your heart a little bit, but the elephants truly love social interaction — you’d be making their day by sharing your love. :)

  19. Katrina January 31, 2012 at 10:46 am · Reply

    Oh, this made me cry.

    • Diana January 31, 2012 at 4:25 pm · Reply

      Katrina, I’m sorry! I am glad it touched you. :)

  20. Nina F February 1, 2012 at 11:50 pm · Reply

    Very emotional story. So glad you are writing about Elephant Nature Park, helping to educate people. Education is the key to learning how we can make a positive impact.

    Have you heard of, or visited, The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee? It is the largest natural habitat in the US specifically developed for endangered African and Asian elephants. There is a touching story about a 10-year relationship between one particular elephant, Tara, and a dog Bella. When Bella died, Tara grieved. The story is related on the web site.

    • Diana February 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Nina. I have heard of the sanctuary in Tennessee. The story of Tara and Bella was so touching and sad, but also really heart-warming that an elephant and a dog could have such a beautiful relationship! I hope others are able to learn from my time at ENP and take away a new found respect and knowledge for these creatures.

  21. Nikki Botha February 2, 2012 at 6:55 am · Reply

    Hi Diana – I need to speak with you regarding this program. Please will you email me so we can chat?

    • Diana February 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm · Reply

      Sending you an e-mail right now …

  22. Emily in Chile February 5, 2012 at 9:41 am · Reply

    Heartbreaking. I’m glad that there are places like this that comfort animals so at least they can have some joy and companionship in their lives. Thank you for sharing all your stories of your time there – it’s been enlightening and (despite the tears after this post) uplifting.

    • Diana February 5, 2012 at 10:36 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Emily. I really want people to come away with an understanding of these animals and why they should not support outfits that offer trekking, circuses and painting. Sadly, so many people book trips without doing any research or learning about the implications of their actions or the impact their decisions make on anyone but themselves. One day, I hope it will change! :) Thank you for taking the time to read these stories.

  23. Abby February 5, 2012 at 1:40 pm · Reply

    So heartbreaking to see an animal so magnificent yet unable to eat or stand up. You are brave, Diana. And have so much compassion.

    • Diana February 5, 2012 at 10:35 pm · Reply

      Thank you :) It was heartbreaking, but the moment she stood up and I saw her from a distance … man, I was overcome with happiness.

  24. Nicole (colehaber.com) February 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm · Reply

    Wow. This was a really moving post. I visited the Elephant Nature Park in December – it’s a magical but also heartbreaking place. Before going, I never really knew about what was right and wrong for elephants – and I’m an animal lover and a vegetarian. There are so many options in CM and in Thailand to ride elephants and people don’t ever find out how bad it is or that feeds a culture of even worse behavior. ENF does such great work – I am so glad you wrote about it.

    • Diana February 7, 2012 at 6:36 pm · Reply

      You are right — it is magical AND heartbreaking. Like you, I never knew about what was good/bad for elephants. As soon as I found out, I made it my mission to tell everyone. The problem is, no one knows riding them is bad. They assume because an outfit says they are “eco-friendly” or even exists, that the elephants are treated well and it doesn’t harm them. Sadly, that is not the case. And, even if an outfit did treat them well, the elephants have still been disgustingly abused in order to learn how to accept riders, and the riding itself is damaging. Thank you for taking the time to read the post and comment. I appreciate the support!

  25. Anji February 7, 2012 at 7:37 am · Reply

    Wow! This must have been a really hard experience and moment to endure. Very beatifully written, you absolutley touched my heart. I’ve been extremely fond of elephants since I was child, so much so, that I love Ganesha the Indian god. Must have been absolutely inspiring to see her standing… I believe that when love is given unconditionally, good things happen.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Diana February 7, 2012 at 6:32 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Anji. I really appreciate your kind words! It was an extremely hard time, one that I never wish to relive again, but am thankful I was able to experience it so I could share it with others. When we saw her standing the next day, whew. Tears of joy. I like that belief … in this case, I think it stands very true. :)

  26. Mica February 7, 2012 at 9:15 am · Reply

    I remember when you told me about this in CM. I have since passed some of your work along to others traveling through Thailand to warn them. But not everyone listens.

    I send you a big hug cause I love you and another big hug for writing the story. I know it was hard for you.

    • Diana February 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm · Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing — I REALLY appreciate you taking the time to pass along the information. Sadly, not everyone listens. We learned that the night at the reggae bar. People don’t always want to know something that goes against their wants. Hopefully, one day, more people will realize it isn’t about their lists and desires, but about the animals their decisions impact.

      Thank you for the two big hugs. I needed them today. Sending you big hugs back. xx

  27. Tawny- Captain and Clark February 8, 2012 at 12:08 am · Reply

    Wiping tears from my eyes as I type. This is a story that needs to be shared. I remember riding an elephant at the zoo when I was extremely young. It was an experience that I’ll never forget and had me obsessed with elephants ever since. Being older and knowing what I know now, I honestly believe that education is the best way to stop the abuse and torture on these gentle giants. It’s always so tempting for us to interact with exotic animals while on our travels and we have to make a conscious effort to realize the consequences (to the animals) of our actions. We would love to volunteer at ENP in the near future and make a positive impact on their lives.

    • Diana February 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm · Reply

      If I had one wish, other than love and happiness for the people I love, it would be for every person thinking about riding an elephant, supporting a circus, buying a painting, etc. to take the time to read this or other similar posts and LEARN about the implications of their actions. It breaks my heart that more people aren’t aware of the suffering and inadvertent permission they give an entire industry. Even Thailand’s tourism bureau has an e-book that supports elephant rides. That, to me, is appalling. But, why wouldn’t they? I mean, tourists and travelers go to Thailand and spend their money on this, why would the tourism dept. not promote such a thing? I am so glad you took the time to read this. :) Thank you.

  28. ashley Beolens March 11, 2012 at 4:32 am · Reply

    Incredible writing made me tear up completely (which isn’t so good when at work!!). So sad the plight some animals are put through in the cause of entertainment for us humans. We really are a wicked species.

    • Diana March 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm · Reply

      Oh, thank you so much. Having readers leave comments like this warms my heart. I am sorry for making you tear up at work, but really happy I was able to convey my experience. I don’t think we are all wicked — those who can take moments like this and apply it to their lives and choices help make us not so bad. :)

  29. Arun June 7, 2012 at 9:23 pm · Reply

    Sweet story. But the whole thing is a bit over dramatic. There are both people and animals suffering and dying every single day and always have been. This is life. And humans have always caused suffering on animals and always will. This is human nature. To recognize it and fight it is great. To behave like a zealot and nag the crap out of a dying animal is just plain obnoxious. I’m sure the elephant mostly recovered that day because of the IV. Not because a throng of emotional people pushed her around with dirt and trucks.

    • Diana June 12, 2012 at 11:25 am · Reply

      Arun, thank you for taking the time to write. If it seems dramatic, it is because, for me, at the time, it was. Seeing the elephant suffer was heartbreaking and awful and one of those moments I will NEVER forget. I understand this is life, and both people and animals are dying everyday. And, while I do not disagree, the elephants recovery did not come from our singing, but far more likely the IV, I don’t think it was nagging her. In the research I have read about elephants, these creatures are very social. Even when I was there, one of the baby elephants fell asleep daily with Lek singing to her. So, while I respect your opinion, I am going to politely disagree.

  30. suzin July 16, 2012 at 7:20 pm · Reply

    this made me cry, I cant wait to visit the park next Tuesday and maybe volunteer for a week another time. Thnaks Diana for making people aware

    • Diana July 18, 2012 at 9:14 pm · Reply

      Suzin, I have tried really hard to help spread the word. I will be at the park on Tuesday, hope to see you then!

  31. Vince November 20, 2012 at 9:43 pm · Reply

    Unbelievably touching story. Thank you so much for sharing it.
    I hope one day people will realize that these majestic creatures deserve all the love and respect in the world.
    I am planning on visiting the park w 3 friends in February 2013. Was wondering if you could help me out with finding some decent lodging and directions to the park?
    I would love to come and lend a hand, even if just for a couple days.
    Thank you again
    Vince

    • Diana November 22, 2012 at 11:39 am · Reply

      Hi — if you book in to the park, you will have transport included. There aren’t really any places near the actual park to stay — you would want to book into Chiang Mai. :) And, there are plenty of places in the city to stay. Try Diva, that’s one my friends stay at. :)

  32. Vince November 20, 2012 at 11:01 pm · Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. It is truly a heartwrenching one.
    Hopefully one day people will learn to treat these animals with the love and respect they deserve!
    I was wondering if you could contact me at my email address, I have some inquiries about the park as I would like to visit in mid February.
    Thanks again
    Vince

    • Diana November 22, 2012 at 11:38 am · Reply

      I hope one day people do learn. I have sent an email your way!! :)

  33. Rhonda Mix March 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm · Reply

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post, it was very emotional. And beautiful photos! As a lover and advocate of elephants myself, I can imagine the pain you must have felt seeing the elephant suffer.

    I did want to say though that there is one other elephant sanctuary in Thailand (where they do let people ride elephants for a limited time) that I found to be wonderful. Have you heard of it?

    http://www.thailandelephant.org/en/

    I spent a few days there and thought the elephants were treated well. I also keep up regularly with some of the employees and I can see how much love and dedication they give the elephants. I just wanted to share this and say that there are a few places out there where elephant rides are given and the elephants seem to be happy, well-cared for and thriving. I understand most places are not like this however.

    • Diana April 2, 2013 at 3:54 am · Reply

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. While I respect your opinion, I disagree with places like this being called a sanctuary. The true idea of a sanctuary is to give animals refuge. There are many so-called sanctuaries that still offer rides, shows, paintings, etc. and use weapons of intimidation to get them to listen. There are also sanctuaries that have forced breeding which is a barbaric practice that is essentially a female elephant being raped. I am not saying elephants at some of these places aren’t treated well, but I think places that tout themselves as sanctuaries should not green-wash their business and call it exactly what it is — a tourist attraction, that while maybe they have been taken from worse situations, are still not at peace. I’m glad you enjoyed your time there, and that the people there look after and care for the elephants, but– according to the definition of the word — it is not a sanctuary. It is hard to know if an elephant is happy in real life, because we project our own ideas of what is happy onto them. If they are rocking/swaying, chained most of the time, don’t have interaction with other elephants, hit with bull hooks or other weapons to get them to listen, chances are they are not happy. I don’t know enough about this place to comment beyond my basic knowledge of what makes a true sanctuary. I would hope they are treated well and given plenty of love and care, without any abuse. The elephants in Thailand that are taken to sanctuaries are some of the ones who have had the worst lives. I hope they are able to live there happily, as you said. :)

      • Rhonda April 2, 2013 at 8:04 am · Reply

        I understand what you are saying and I’m a huge elephant lover myself, believe me. I would never want to support an organization where the animals are abused. I also agree with much of what you are saying, all I wanted to share was that not all places that give rides are horrible. I know what certain elephant behavior indicates as well (swaying, etc) and none of the elephants I met were like this. I was on high alert for any signs of elephant abuse. All the elephants seemed extremely happy and their mahouts appeared to love them. Perhaps it was staged but after spending a few days there I had a good feeling about the place. Of course, I’m not an elephant nor do I speak elephant so I couldn’t ask them myself. :) I would definitely be cautious about participating in any trekking program in Thailand but I did my research before I went and I know that this is a wonderful place where people truly do care about the elephants. Maybe it’s not 100 percent perfect but the truth is, the most perfect place for elephants would be one where they could live at peace in the wild, without any human contact or interference whatsoever. Basically, where humans would never see them or work with them. Anyway, not trying to argue, just wanted to share. Keep up the good work.

        • Diana April 18, 2013 at 2:12 am · Reply

          You are absolutely right — not all places are horrible. :) And, you are also right that the best place for them would be in the wild. I know you aren’t trying to argue … but I just want to make sure the people who visit my site and read the stories have the most accurate information without opinions on how we think they are treated. It is too easy for people to be swayed by what we report as fact without backing.

  34. Nguyen July 22, 2014 at 5:40 am · Reply

    Oh I’m feeling sorry for this elephant. What a touching story!

    • Diana July 23, 2014 at 3:07 am · Reply

      Thank you. The story was quite hard to write. Very sad for the life she had previous to ENP.

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  1. Elephant Nature Park | Thailand | d travels 'round
  2. Dreaming of Asia
  3. A Day With The Elephants « Is Out Of Office

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