A two-week trip to Thailand to care for rescued elephants
Emma Barratt, 23, had just graduated with a geography degree, and she wanted a vacation. But not just any vacation. So she decided to spend two weeks caring for rescued elephants in Thailand.
Her trip took her from Watlington, England, to the Elephant Nature Park, which provides a refuge for damaged and distressed elephants who have suffered as a result of the country’s tourism and logging industries.
“I learned a great deal, and had my eyes opened to the tremendous cruelty that surrounds elephant tourism in Thailand,” she said. “I had no idea of the suffering these magnificent animals endure. In order for them to become suitable for the rides and trekking that tourists demand, they are literally beaten into submission.”
Barratt spent her time at the park getting to know the rescued elephants and discovering their soft natures. Her two favorites were Jokia and Mae Perm. Jokia is blind, and Mae Perm is her constant companion.
Jokia and Mae Perm
“Jokia was rescued from the logging industry. She had given birth while hauling logs up a mountain and her baby died after it rolled down the slope in its sack.”
Jokia was so depressed that she couldn’t go on working. As a punishment, her owner blinded her with a sling shot.
“Since coming to the park, Mae Perm has taken care of Jokia, never leaving her side,” Barratt said. “They quickly bonded with each other and are able to act more like they would in the wild.”
On her first day at the park, Miss Barratt and the other volunteers were shown a documentary about working elephants.
“To be deemed safe and obedient enough for tourist rides, they are made to endure ‘the crush’, where young elephants are put in a cage and held there while their owners beat and torment them. The elephant will remember this dreadful experience for the rest of its life, living in constant fear that it will be returned to ‘the crush’ if it disobeys its owner.”
Tourism is the backbone of Thailand’s economy and elephants are a big attraction for visitors.
However, the elephant park wants to prove that the tourism industry can thrive without harming the animals.
“The park wants to make sure that elephants are treated with kindness and given a more natural way of life that still enables tourists to get up close and spend some time with these amazing animals,” Barratt said. “The Elephant Nature Park is a responsible way for people to get close to the elephants in the knowledge that you are not promoting the harmful practices that have become so entrenched in the tourism industry.
“Things won’t change immediately but if more people are made aware of the issues and visit nature parks rather than going on elephant rides that are widely advertised by our travel agents, we can make a difference to the lives of Thailand’s elephants.”
The park volunteers have to work hard, with daily duties including shelter cleaning, washing and preparing elephant food, cutting grass, building fences and planting trees.
“The surroundings are incredible, probably the most beautiful place I have ever seen, with a river for the elephants to bathe in, but it was clear that the park needed volunteers,” Barratt said.
She said her experience with the elephants was much more rewarding than riding one, and that she would recommend the experience to anyone who cares about these animals.
For more information or to volunteer, visit the Elephant Nature Park.