We drove far away from the city, into mountains and jungles, to the Mae Wang District of Thailand. The heat became a lot more intense and the sun struck the skin harshly.
It was calm.
Surrounded by paddy fields and lush forests we could hear elephants trumpeting in the distance. We jumped into a pick-up truck and slid down some muddy slopes to an open area. A few wooden open structures dotted the land on one side and a river caressed its way between the open space and the foot of the mountain. A family from the Karen settlement lives here with elephants.
The elephants are free. Free to roam the jungle and the land. They always come back; the family feeds them well, takes care of them and loves them.
We sat by the river under a bamboo-and-palm roof, cutting cucumber and preparing food. We used the food to let the elephants know they could trust us. We spoke to them, called out to them, we told them our names and were told they would remember.
They relaxed around us and became playful.
We spent the morning walking through the jungle with the elephants and their mahouts. Sometimes the elephants led the way; other times they followed us. They stopped to eat every couple of minutes; they struggled to push their weight up the steep hillside. If we fell behind the elephants came to get us and hurry us up.
We watched them hang out in their natural habitat. It was heartwarming to know that projects like this one were supporting mahouts to care for their elephants, and giving them a chance to earn a living without having to exploit their elephants. The trust between the mahout and the elephant is beautiful. You sense the kinship between them.
Women made us lunch and served us their traditional Karen tribal foods. It was delicious and satisfying after trekking through thick forests. The warmth of the air felt so comforting, like it was hugging me, the air pure. The silence of the nature was relieving.
It was broken by a loud elephant, battling for food it had stolen from his brother. The brothers has so much cheek. We rubbed the stubborn elephants in mud and bathed with them in rivers. We fed them more, and more.
“For more than 20 years, Karen tribes have rented their elephants to Elephant Camps. After the ban of logging in Thailand in 1989, the Karen tribes lost their sources of income as were forced to lease out their elephants.
“After seeing other Elephant owners change their way of caring for their Elephants, a group of Elephant owners in Mae Wang area, just south of Chiang Mai city, have agreed to stop renting their Elephants to the trekking industry and have committed to care for the Elephants at their homes with the support of Save Elephant Foundation and forget the trekking chairs.
“Now, the elephants have returned to their village where their owners are committed to caring for them in the best possible way. Removing the saddles and leaving the hooks behind, these elephants are now in the jungle by their villages where they can reconnect with the Karen hill tribe and their natural environment.”
Elephant Nature Park is doing great things! If you visit Thailand, go support them… they have great projects, and elephants are fun, wise and amazing creatures to get close to.