Howdy! And Happy New Year! I know it’s been a while . . . a little autumnal hibernation was in order for me, doing some delving within so that now that the days are lengthening, I’m able to come shining forth into the new year. I wouldn’t dare bore you with all that navel gazing!
But now I have some adventures and stories to tell, so let’s begin!
I have a few posts to share with you about family travels in Thailand. We spent three weeks in a sweet combination of vacationing and adventuring backpacker-style. One of our big highlights was a volunteer stay at the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for elephants in northern Thailand where they are providing habitat for rescued elephants, traveling veterinary care for elephants in captivity, and a new model for elephant tourism.
I can’t really say enough about the park and it’s founder Lek Chailert. They are doing great work with passion. Our friends told us about the park when we were planning our trip, and we knew we would love to have some interaction with elephants, but wanted to be sure we weren’t engaging in activities that exploit or hurt them. I’ve come to realize that as a family with small children, we are a prime demographic target for engaging in activities that can be most exploitative . . . zoos, safari parks, elephant riding, dolphin shows. We want to share with our children the wonders of the natural world and it can be so difficult to figure out which ones are doing good work and which ones aren’t.
Enter my superhero friend Amy G, conservation director for California’s Oakland Zoo, a place famous for its natural habitats and elephant care, who told me, “Go for it. Lek is the real deal.”
This sort of guidance and the education that people like Amy do is invaluable. Parents want to make the choices that support their kids’ developing values and the earth they will inherit. We all want to teach our kids to make sense of this everchanging world and we want to see them light up with joy.
Not only did we get some intimate time with the elephants, but we also got some education. Honestly, sometimes I get tired of being the naysaying mom . . . “No, we’re not going to ride an elephant, go to the safari park, swim with dolphins . . . ” At Elephant Nature Park, we were able to learn together and say a resounding YES to the whole experience. This blog post I found shares some of the information we learned about elephant life and training.
We cried together learning about the history of the elephants we met and what is happening to many wild elephants even today. But we were mostly all smiles as we met these giants and learned about their ways and how much love they receive from staff, volunteers and visitors to the park.
Did you know elephants sleep around 4 hours a night and are pretty much eating the rest of the time? I was impressed when I saw an elephant crush a kabocha pumpkin with her foot and eat it. I was surprised when I saw another elephant eat about six of these pumpkins in a row, NOT crushing it first and just chomping right into the whole squash with its four teeth!
We were lucky to catch a moment with the inspirational founder, Lek. Her love runs this place. She was raised in a village not far from the park and has followed her destiny to be mother to the elephants. The message at the park: Love yourself and do what matters.
Isaiah loved getting sprayed by Hope, one of the park’s Naughty Boys. An unexpected treat at the park was visiting its dog sanctuary. Having already been a home for over 100 dogs rescued from nearby villages and the illicit meat trade, volunteers from ENP went to help animals in the 2011 Bangkok flooding and ended up bringing home another 200 dogs. When we visited, the total number was 370 dogs. There are puppies. There are older puppies. There are groups of 30 dogs living in a series of adventure parks, with each enclosure having its own pond, play structure and plenty of room to roam.
Isaiah found his happy place. He suggested we leave him with the dogs. We tried but the staff wants him to stay with us a bit longer and to return in a few years. He and our guide, Tony, decided he would come back for a month in 3 years to volunteer with the dogs and then when he’s older he’ll come back to live permanently with the elephants and dogs.