Elephants in High Heels and Angle Grinders with Wings. Day 2 at Elephant Nature Park.

Carvings done by the mahouts while out in the field with the elephants.

Carvings done by the mahouts while out in the field with the elephants.

Bathroom critter report –

  • 1 snail
  • 1 worm. Sadly, the worm got stood on before being noticed, so make that
  • 1 snail. Sob.

Types of work the volunteers are asked to do here:

  •  Wash and prepare food for the elephants
  • Unload the trucks of fruit and vegetables as they arrive
  • Pick up elephant pooh in and around their night shelter and put it on the compost pile (pitchforks and trolleys provided)
  • Cut corn or other greenery for elephant fodder
  • Mend fences
  • Plant young trees
  • Help out over at the dog shelter
  • Whatever other random jobs come up that need doing – no shortage of them!

There’s a wee orphaned goat here, Noah, who is about four days old. He’s being carried around by his human nanny and being shown how to pluck leaves from bushes for a chew and generally be a goat. He has a special pen in front of the gift shop where he is practicing his cuteness and collecting human admirers.

Breakfast report:

  • French toast
  • fried rice
  • boiled egg
  • yoghurt
  • fruit juice.

For this morning’s work effort we washed large concrete tankfuls of pumpkins and pineapples. They shouldn’t have any spray on them but they get washed just to be on the safe side. The elephant kitchen is large and open-aired, with shelves and shelves full of bananas, fruit, pumpkins and whatever else gets delivered that day. We then cut up and transferred the food to large plastic baskets and hauled them round to the feeding platform so the day visitors could play ‘feed the groping trunk’. I stood there for a while watching three elephants eat with their dexterous snouts, feeling around for the next load seconds after the previous ones had disappeared. It was surprisingly quiet, with only the occasional snuffle, squeak or rumble. Elephants can be entirely silent if they choose to be. Apparently from a biological point of view, their feet are constructed and padded in such a way that they’re actually walking almost on tiptoe. Or as though they are wearing internal high heels. Sort of brings a cartoon to one’s mind, doesn’t it…?

After stuffing itself for a while, one of them grabbed the hose in the corner and poked  it into her mouth. The mahout turned the tap on and she stood there happily gulping water, then one of her large gray friends walked up and put its trunk into her mouth and stole some of the water right from out of her throat. Once they’d both had their fill, the first one then pulled the hose out, dropped it on the ground and they both ambled away. Now THAT’s friendship!

Every elephant here has its own mahout, right from arrival or from birth. Absolutely no striking implements of any sort are allowed, riding is not encouraged, and the mahouts are taught to use positive reinforcement, with encouragement, praise and love. So the mahouts are more like babysitters really, sitting around or walking near the elephants out in the fields, pretty much making sure they are safe and not eating the roofing grass off the huts or running towards the visitors and giving them heart attacks. Most of them carry cloth shoulder bags with carving tools and make small wooden statues of their respective charges (pardon the pun) while out in the field. These statues are about three inches or so high, and they sell them in the gift shop to make extra money to send home to their families. Many of the staff members here are refugees, often from Burma. So Lek, the founder of the park, not only rescues elephants – she rescues dogs, cows, pigs, cats, chickens, people and I guess whatever else is discovered in need of help and refuge. Many souls have been bought to this place for love, comfort, medical assistance, employment, etc, and undoubtedly many more will come in the future. A woman who is a very inspiring example to humanity indeed…

Occasionally, dogs can be heard howling from way over at the dog shelter, near the road. There are quite a few wandering about freely and visitors are encouraged to show them some love and affection. With the exception of the ones that have been too traumatized by the experiences they have been through and are very nervous of humans. These ones have a red ribbon around their neck, a sensible tactic giving people ample warning to not approach them. There are signs about the place regarding compassion towards animals, such as ”If you have animals for pets, why do you eat other ones as food?”

We were taken for a walk across the fields this afternoon and lined up for kisses from the baby elephant generous enough to give out many of them. I wasn’t familiar with the eles at that stage, but I’m pretty sure it would have been Faa Mai, who is about three years old or so, with a lovely chubby, cheeky face and the bright, fun-loving eyes of an elephant that has never been traumatized. This is where the photo in my blog header was taken. I kept pulling silly faces and the lady using my camera kept making me go back for more because she thought it was hilarious. Consequently I got several kisses and the idiotic photos to match.

We walked further on to watch the herd bathing in a deeper part of the river for a while, then ‘Baby Boy’, a.k.a. Chang Yim, thought it would be hilarious to come out of the water and dash towards us. Forty-odd people stumbling and running like crazy, screaming and giggling at the same time, no doubt satisfied his penchant for mischief. He might be a baby, but he’s still rather a large beastie and had no problem raising vast amounts of adrenaline in the little running humans. Very funny, Chang Yim!

Our afternoon work entailed unloading a watermelon truck via the human chain method. This took at least an hour to do, with the added pressure of being potentially charged one beer per watermelon we dropped. An Ipod and a speaker with a mixture of music for both the oldies and the youngies added a rather nice background to the bonhomie of the situation, and I do believe that there was only a moderate amount of beers owed by the end of it.

At around 4pm, due to the energy expended on the watermelons and the humid heat, Ursula and I retired to our hut for a wee bit of a rest. Then at around 4.30pm, somebody started up an angle grinder. Now I’m a reasonably relaxed person, but after tolerating this noise ongoingly for about ten minutes I found I was starting to grit my teeth. So I got up and went in search of its origins and discovered via those in the know that it wasn’t an angle grinder at all, but several large cicadas that set up and perform this shrill concert late each afternoon for half an hour or so. I never actually got a look at the little so-and-so’s, but by the level of decibels they were putting out, I’m willing to bet they’re about the size of your average opossum. Thus, each afternoon we were there, they put on their performance and I wore my teeth down another millimeter or so until the show was over for the day.

Evening came and after dinner a few of us had a drink or two together and I plunked out a few tunes on my ukulele, then came the long walk down the dark, creepy driveway to retire for the night. Beds and mozzie nets were inspected in case some of the large spiders other volunteers had reported were gracing our hut with their presence this time around, and off to la-la land we went.

Chang Yim In River

Chang Yim in the river with one eye on the people on the bank and several braincells on concocting mischief…

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19 thoughts on “Elephants in High Heels and Angle Grinders with Wings. Day 2 at Elephant Nature Park.

  1. Thanks for your first-hand account! My niece and I will be volunteering there in December for a week. I was there for a day last December and knew I had to return to that special place.

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  2. Great story. Did you go alone? I would love to volunteer for a couple of weeks, but I am unsure about going by myself as I am not all that familiar with traveling o/s. In your experience, would it be something a female could go and do on their own?

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    • No, I didn’t go alone, I was with a friend. But I would be quite happy to do it alone. As long as you are sensible, dress respectfully, learn a few words of the language and do your research before you go, Thailand is a fairly safe place to travel. The people at ENP would look after you well – they’re a great lot there. There are several ‘camp leaders’ who are fantastic young guys and they would keep an eye out for you. And it would only take you minutes to make friends there, as all the people who go there have made an ethical choice and are good people. I say go for it! You’ll be fine. 🙂

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      • Thanks for your reply. Although I am married my husband nor my friends have any interest in it. It is something I have wanted to so for such a long time. Might just have to do it.

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      • Let’s look at it this way; will you look back later on in life and regret not doing it?
        It’s really good for us to step off our familiar into the unknown every now and again. Character-forming. But it’s our individual right choose to remain where we feel safest. I know I really love the memories, photos, souvenirs (strange that they may be, most of ’em – that’s another bottle of wine;) ), comparing stories with other travellers, thinking of challenges I’ve had that have stretched me and made me grow – not to mention given me a well-needed practice in Zen, and I know I will have lots of inner smiles for the rest of my life because it has made me rich on the inside. But that’s just my point of view.

        So, in short – no pressure, but you decide. 🙂

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      • Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. It is so true, I will regret it if I don’t do it. Life is to be lived.

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    • I went alone to ENP in 2010. I am married too and my husband also did’t want go. I experienced that travelling in Thailand as a female is very relaxed. I took a flight to Chiang Mai (I did not want to stay in Bangkok on my own) and stayed in a guesthouse with a Dutch owner (I’am Dutch). On monday they picked me up for ENP. What’s your nationality? Because as a English native speaker you’ re in advantage. During my stay we were with 25 people from all over the world in the age between 20 and 70. Only that experience is worth! I had a very nice Canadian roommate with whom I am still in contact. Go for it and don’t wait too long, because especially now with the babyelephants it will be great. I want to go again to see them and to visit my 2 adoption ellies, Sri Nuan and Sri Prae.

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      • Hi Ineke, thanks for your reply. I am an Australian and have always had a passion for elephants. Its something I have been longing to do, but unless I do it on my own it s not going to happen. As Raveburbleblog said, I need to step out if my comfort zone. It is nice to hear from someone who has done it on their own. By the way what was the name if the place you stayed in Chaing Mai?

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