Thursday, June 15, 2006

We'll never forget the elephants

They say a picture is worth is a thousand words, so ours should speak volumes on the four days we spent living with Asian elephants outside of Chiang Mai. Or at least more than I can write as we're scurrying and hurrying to get this blogged before heading off to Burma. Myanmar. Whatever. Anyway, look at the smiles on our faces as a baby elephant nuzzles our faces with her trunk, or Andy feeds one fruit or I scrub an elephant teen in the river. Our smiles are big, truly awesome, natural and unrestrained.

One of our most favorite events of this Extravagasia was our swim with dolphins, something about interacting with mammals in a wild, natural setting unnerved and exhilarated us and we wanted to do it again. Andy and I read about Elephant Nature Park in National Geographic, and our new travel friends Gordon and Lucy had visited the park and given rave reviews. After all, where else could you help bathe elephants in a river?~> read more

  Certainly not at a zoo. We signed up and headed off to a sprawl of jungle and river in the northwest of Thailand that's a reserve for domesticated Asian elephants called Elephant Nature Park. It's a non-profit rescue organization started by an amazing woman-soul named Lek Chailert who wants to better the treatment of Thailand's national symbol, the elephant. When we arrived, chaos reigned. Animal Planet was there with a crew filming a documentary, volunteers madly unloaded hundreds of kilos of bananas and pineapple in a human chain, construction workers were hammering at bamboo pavilion to repair destruction from an overnight elephant raid, cute but mongrel dogs barked about and elephants of all size and color roamed about in lush green grasses with the occasional majestic, sureral trumpet like a safari dream come to life. We were awestruck.

And we stayed that way for four days. The elephants suck you in with their playful, incredible, unique trunks and you can just sit around and watch them for hours. We certainly did. Watching them play and wrestle with each other, their trunks looking like arms and their tails swishing about in glee like a toilet scrub brush gone mad was better than any movie. They're so huge and wrinkly, their their ears flapping constantly like wings, but have eyes that are utterly human. Pinkish and brown, the giant creature can look eyes with you and make you feel connected, probably just in a mammalian sense but it really feels like a mythical one. Gazing at them at they gaze at you, their trunks shimmying in a teasing dance, you feel special. It sounds corny, but you really do. Andy and I frequently looked quickly at one another and said, "Did you see that? Did you see how the baby, the mama, the giant, whomever, just looked at me?"

Elephants are extremely human creatures; they have routines, families and relationships just like we do. The 30 elephants we lived with at the park chose family groups for themselves and by themselves, and sleeping, playing, bathing within these groups of moms, aunts, babies and teens. Older female elephants are gray aunties to the younger ones, and they fiercely protect their young. The females also protect each other, and one giant pink-gray lady named Mae Perm adopted an older abused and blind female, Jokia, and trumpets, growls, hisses, calls directions to her, plus peels her bamboo stalks, as if she were a human good samaritan. Like us humans, elephants love treats. Twice a day, the herd of elephants are fed by hand -- by us and others, not just their mahouts (trainer) -- bunches of bananas, pineapples, pumpkins and cucumbers. You've never seen anything as amazing as when an elephant's trunk curls out and around a whole pinapple in your hang, feeing it into it's mouth while holding onto the prickly leaves with its trunk and snapping those off efficiently with a crack! It's amazing!!! The dexterity elephants have with their funny, animated and expressive trunks is truly impressive.

Our favorite time as well as the elephants, was bath time. Twice each afternoon, Andy and I, the other visitors, volunteers and mahouts, trekked down to the brown-geren river and scrubbed away on the gentle giants.

for now, that'll have to be enough; we have to head off to burma for 3 weeks (incommunicado), but we really hope you enjoy the photos, which are here:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What great pictures! I loved the kisses and you scrubbing him with the brush. Can't wait to hear all about it when you're back. Love, Wendy

6:14 PM  

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