Feeding elephants

Written by on October 23, 2011 in Asia, Blog, Responsible Tourism, Thailand - 37 Comments

Within an hour of arriving to the park, I have met my first elephants.

Our van is the first to arrive at Elephant Nature Park, so we drop our bags, and sit down. But, it is hard for any of us to sit still.

There are elephants. Everywhere.

Not just the actual animals, either. There are elephant carvings. Walls covered with stories of elephants. Photos of elephants and their mahouts.

Jack sits us down and goes over the rules: don’t approach an elephant without its mahout; don’t tease the elephant with food; never stand directly in front of the elephant; don’t stand over the line on the feeding platform; don’t place the food directly in the elephants mouths.

They’re basic rules, but ones that could save our lives. We are told to remember, while these elephants are all living here safely, it doesn’t mean that we are necessarily safe around them. They may have grown up in captivity and have been victims of unspeakable abuse at the hands of humans, but, at the end of the day, they are still wild animals. Wild animals with silent footsteps, who weigh upwards of six tons.

“OK, then, we will go feed elephants,” Jack announces.

I can’t believe where I am, what I am doing, as we walk through the mud and fields to meet our first elephant.

Elephants. Real elephants. Standing in front of me.

Our group approaches Mae Tee under a shelter, her mahout standing by her. In front of her are two buckets, filled with halves of watermelon and small bananas still on the stem.

Mae Tee and her best friend, Mae Kham Geao. You can clearly see the scars from being beaten with the hook on her head.

Mae Tee is a former logging elephant. She first worked in the industry when it was legal, and then when Thailand banned it, since it was all she had known, she worked in the illegal industry. Already in poor condition, her owners fed methamphetamine to keep her going. However, after working tirelessly (thanks to the pills), her body began to lose fat and muscle and the cartilage in her front wrist joints deteriorated. Her ankle joints were entirely worn. Because of the exhaustion, she stopped listening to commands, resulting in beatings with the hook, causing deep trenches in her head, to keep her moving.

While not much is known about her past, her owners realized she didn’t have much left in her, so they took her off the job. However, she ended up once again working at a rubber tree plantation, once again logging. Lek Chailert, the founder of the park, found her after she was sold to a nearby trekking camp. When she collapsed from exhaustion and malnutrition, the owners decided to sell her to Lek. Within days of arriving to the park, Mae Tee made friends with another elephant, Mae Kham Geao, who had a similar upbringing.

Jack quickly explains to us about elephant relationships. It turns out, they are similar to humans. They make friends. They have boyfriends/girlfriends. They chat with each other, an adorable clucking sound.

“Go ahead,” Jack coaxes. “Walk up to her.”

We stand there, a few feet away, staring at her. Mae Kham Gaeo is next to her, being fed at the same time.

I’m in pure awe.

A lifetime of seeing elephants in photos, on television, and now … I am so close to one.

We tentatively walk up to her.

“Give her food,” Jack instructs. “Give her a cluster of bananas.”

I watch as one by one, the group begins to grow more confident near her.

Mae Tee’s long, pink speckled trunk curiously reaches towards Sarah’s hand holding the fruit. We can hear her breathe in the scent, and then quickly wrap her trunk around the food and put her trunk into her mouth, depositing the bananas onto her big, pink tongue.

Slosh. Slosh.

Ready to eat the entire cluster

Slosh, courtesy of Mae Kham Geao.

Then, it’s my turn. I give Steven my camera and instruct him to take photos. I feel such an urgency, an importance, in having my first moment with Mae Tee documented.

I stick my hands into the bucket and pull up bananas.

Mae Tee’s trunk is swinging out towards me. For a moment, I hesitate as she begins to touch her trunk on my hand, around the fruit.

I’m feeding an elephant. 

My hand touches her trunk. It feels like leather, with coarse hairs sprouting up from her skin. I am instantly in love.

I keep thinking to myself, over and over, how blessed I am to be standing next to this rescued creature. My heart aches for her story, the life she had lead up until 2009 when she arrived to the park. And then, my heart bursts with warmth and joy at the life she is living now.

I touch her and I want to hug her. I want to wrap my arms around her big neck and just feel her skin against my face. I want to cry because the moment for me is just sheer amazing. It is a moment I never want to lose.

She takes the fruit, curls her trunk into her mouth, and chomps on the entire cluster.

The smile on my face can’t be contained as I watch her chew.

We continue to feed her and Mae Kham Geao for about 30 minutes, laughing at how smart Mae Tee is. She likes her bananas, not the watermelon. So,whenever she is handed a watermelon, she accepts it, and then tosses it behind her with her trunk. It isn’t until all of the bananas are gone that she is willing to eat the juicy fruit. In its entirety.

The group of us laughs at her adorable picky eating.

She’s a lucky girl.

 

Friendship

I look back at the two elephants as we head to the main area for lunch — something I have heard nothing but raves about from other visitors to the park.

She’s standing there, talking to her best friend. Their trunks tangle together as they softly chatter.

My heart nearly explodes with joy.

 

 

For more information on Elephant Nature Foundation and Elephant Nature Park, please visit www.saveelephant.org

For more information about the elephant tourism industry and why you shouldn’t ride elephants, support circuses and more in Thailand, click here.

 

 

About the Author

Diana Edelman is an avid traveler who recently spent four years living as an expat. Most notably, Diana spent nearly three years in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she worked with Save Elephant Foundation to raise awareness about the realities of elephant tourism. Currently based in Las Vegas, Diana works in many industries as a publicist, social media expert, content creator and journalist. The co-founder of the Responsible Travel & Tourism Collective, Diana has spoken at conferences about travel blogging and responsible tourism.

37 Comments on " Feeding elephants "

  1. Sebastian October 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm · Reply

    What a beautiful story Diana! I’m glad you had this possibility and I envy you for that! Your work is very important. I hope I have the time one day to do that!!! I will remember the Elephant Nature Park when going to Thailand!

    • The Adventures of D October 24, 2011 at 6:27 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Sebastian! Definitely put it on your list when you go to Thailand. It’s is worth every penny.

  2. ayngelina October 23, 2011 at 3:23 pm · Reply

    I can imagine how amazing it would be to interact with such large animals. I had heard about the Elephant Nature Park and now regret not going.

    • The Adventures of D October 24, 2011 at 6:27 pm · Reply

      It truly is an amazing experience to be with them. There were many experiences at the park, which I plan on sharing, that truly just made you realize how big these creatures are, and what they are capable of. There’s always time to go back!

  3. Raymond @ Man On The Lam October 23, 2011 at 5:14 pm · Reply

    I’m heading back that way in a couple of weeks so will definitely have to check out this park!

    • The Adventures of D October 24, 2011 at 6:26 pm · Reply

      You are?!?! I’m so jealous!! I would LOVE to go there. Right now. Enjoy your time there and give special loves to Jokia and Medo. Those two girls have my heart.

  4. Daeng October 23, 2011 at 10:33 pm · Reply

    Thanks for the story, you are all welcome to visit and we will be glad to help you make the arrangements

    http://www.elephantnaturepark.org

  5. Annette | Bucket List Journey October 23, 2011 at 10:53 pm · Reply

    What amazing photos! Made me feel like I was there & I so badly wish I was 😉

  6. Help an Elephant October 23, 2011 at 11:11 pm · Reply

    Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Your sense of wonder and joy come through so clearly in your writing!

    Mae Tee is one of the lucky ones. I’m glad she can afford to be a picky eater. ;~~

    • The Adventures of D October 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Barbara!! I am glad she can afford to be a picky eater, too!

  7. Emily in Chile October 24, 2011 at 10:29 am · Reply

    The stories about these elephants are just absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t imagine treating any animal that way. But at the same time, I can imagine your excitement at feeding and touching your first elephant, and it makes me happy to think of that part of the story. Just reading the posts is a rollercoaster, I can’t imagine what being at the park is like!

  8. Mica October 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm · Reply

    Keep ’em coming D. I love your Ele stories. Miss you.

    • The Adventures of D October 24, 2011 at 6:24 pm · Reply

      Thanks babe! I’m trying to do one or two a week. Right now is so busy with freelance work and my 30 Day Book Challenge. They will keep coming, though!! Miss you, too!

  9. Stephanie - The Travel Chica October 24, 2011 at 7:38 pm · Reply

    So adorable!

  10. Erica October 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm · Reply

    Small fuzzy arms wrapped themselves around my neck today in a hug and cuddle from a small rescued female howler monkey. I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to be there for them.

    The longing. /sigh

    • The Adventures of D October 25, 2011 at 8:28 pm · Reply

      Welcome to my world. But, sub monkey cuddles for ele trunk kisses. <3

  11. Jarmo October 25, 2011 at 2:34 am · Reply

    Amazing, that’s all I can say. Great writing! After reading that, I want to go so badly, and I am already here, so I don’t really have any excuses 😉

    • The Adventures of D October 25, 2011 at 8:27 pm · Reply

      Thank you!!! 🙂 You should totally go!! Or, wait until I come back and I will go with you!!!

  12. Mark Benson October 25, 2011 at 10:33 am · Reply

    At the Elephant Nature Park you get to be around the mighty elephants and feed them. What a great place to be at and especially what way to feed an animal such huge. Take a flight to Bangkok, Thailand and be generous enough to feed the elephants. The experience will surely be great.

  13. Margo October 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm · Reply

    I love any story with elephants eating an entire bunch of bananas at once. thanks for this! Made me smile today – a tall order! 🙂

    • The Adventures of D October 27, 2011 at 9:48 pm · Reply

      Oh, yay!! I’m glad it made you smile. There’s plenty more elephant stories … stay tuned!!

  14. Erik October 27, 2011 at 4:38 am · Reply

    Love this! Looks like a magical experience!

  15. Hogga October 27, 2011 at 2:10 pm · Reply

    I’m not gonna lie I would be slightly frightened at first, but they look quite gentle… just so big!

    • The Adventures of D October 27, 2011 at 9:46 pm · Reply

      I was kinda scared … at first. But, by the end of the week, I had no qualms about walking up to them and giving them kisses on their trunks. You get to know when you need to move … quickly.

  16. Abby October 31, 2011 at 5:22 am · Reply

    A whole watermelon?! Awww it’s such an honor to watch you fall in love with these elephants!

  17. Camels & Chocolate November 6, 2011 at 10:53 am · Reply

    Adorable! I feel the need to go read Babar after seeing all these photos…or watch Water for Elephants…or something =)

    • The Adventures of D November 6, 2011 at 3:57 pm · Reply

      Haha! Go read the book!! Like most elephants who have been trained to perform on command, the ele in the film was really abused before getting her starring role. 🙁

  18. Bret @ Green Global Travel December 24, 2011 at 1:13 am · Reply

    Great post, D! Just found this one through SU. I’ dying to have an up close n person elephant encounter like this. Lucky you!

    • The Adventures of D December 24, 2011 at 2:12 am · Reply

      You found it through SU? Nice! I didn’t think anything was coming through there these days. You will have an elephant encounter like this — get to the park!! 🙂

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  1. Travel Bloggers Give Back: Elephant Nature Foundation | The Adventures of D
  2. Dreaming of Asia

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