A couple of days ago I was lucky enough to return to Elephant Family Sanctuary, in the Maewang District of Chiang Mai. On this day it started raining just as we got to the camp, so things were done a little bit differently from my previous visit. Our lovely guide Cookie gave us a bit of a run down on elephants and safety around them, then we grabbed our feed bags and climbed the hill to load up on cucumbers. Once again our group was small – there were five of us – and we were joined by a likely couple of lads from London, upon who I directly lay the blame for the ensuing discussion on elephants and flatulence. You know who you are, Aziz and Shay.
We hung around the elephant shelter for a while, waiting for the rain to stop. Thunder bellowed overhead and under the high roof young elephants grabbed bananas and cucumbers like there was no tomorrow. Finally, when we were in danger of running out of banana hoover food, the rain stopped and we were able to head for the river where the other elephants awaited their turn. Due to it raining the previous night also, the river was a bit higher than it had been a few days ago, so wading across was a little bit more challenging and the tidemark on our clothes a little bit higher. Jokes about crocodiles were also a little more prolific, although there wasn’t actually any danger of that. I chose not to tell the others about the possibilities of snakes. No point in starting a stampede, right? Anyway, even if there were any, I imagine they’d be too busy trying to survive to worry about a few silly humans wandering about.
This time I ended up with Joi and December’s snouts in my cucumber/banana bag. Oh the sob stories they told about being very hungry. But to give them credit, it can’t be easy being half a ton plus of vegetarian.
After a decent chompfest had gone down, one of the guides saw that one fork of the river had changed colour, so it was decided all round that it would be prudent to cross back now while the going was good. Considering we’re in the tropics, it’s surprisingly cold in that river. So back across we went and sat down to a very nice lunch, elephants tucked away in their shelter so the humans could actually finish their meal without it disappearing down a pachyderm belly.
And then da-dahhhhhh – the mud spa! The other visitors had no idea what they were in for, but I did, and the mahouts and I eyed each other up as we walked, non-verbal challenges and gauntlets galore being thrown down left right and centre. The elephants got into the spa, the visitors posed for photos and I sneaked around the rim and started packing ammo. I filled my hands with mud bombs, zeroed in on one mahout in particular whom I owed big time, let one fly and it was all on!! I think the others in the group were a bit shocked at first, but once they caught on mud filled the air and not a single person escaped being pelted. The elephants bathed blissfully right in the middle of it all, not a care in the world. I have to say I was a little disgusted with a couple of the mahouts who used the eles to hide behind while still firing over them. Dirty tactics indeed! I did not come out unscathed myself, particularly after two shots, one after the other hit me right in the side of the face, launched, I believe, by yonder german who had cottoned onto the mahouts tactics and copied them, nicely sheltered from my return fire, the cad! The ensuing mud in my eye wasn’t helping my aim either, in my own defense. However, I could only do my best and tried to give as good as I got. I have to say it was the best mud fight I’ve ever been involved in and when we finally quit, muddy faces with happy eyes and huge grins emerged from the battleground.
Back down to the river, which had returned to a normal colour, and both humans and pachyderms waded in and washed the mud away. Brrrr.
Finally, our day had come to an end and we went on another walk – over a different dodgy bridge this time – and meandered through the fields of rice and elephant grass to the van. Once again, thank you Elephant Family Sanctuary for your wonderful hospitality, and Cookie for being a good fun and informative guide.
Final words: Although the non-riding, non-performing elephant camps are a vast improvement on the outfits where hooks, huge bulky seats and demeaning painting shows go on, I have to say that I’ve been searching my heart somewhat about the fact that we humans still are putting these animals into a situation where they live at our behest, for our desires and wants, rather than what theirs would be.
I’m very impressed with the outfits such as Elephant Family Sanctuary for wanting to run their camps as ethically as possible under the circumstances they are given. It’s a step in the right direction for sure. My hope is that all of us human beings become more aware every day, and ideally, one day we will go to see these beautiful creatures in a non-hands-on situation where they are able to keep their families together and wander about in large areas as they wish without any interference on our part. You know, just being elephants.
We can help that to become a reality by insisting on going only to places that do NOT have hooks nor do riding and shows that involve elephants painting or playing soccer, or running about in mock battles. If you know anyone that’s intending on going to a place that does such things, let them know that all these things are very stressful for the elephants and involve pain, as well as the intense loneliness of being chained to a post at the end of the day and not able to touch and cuddle each other, as elephants desperately need to do. It only takes one person to tell another, and word will get around very quickly. This will pressure such camps to make changes in their policies, and bit by bit, we will all help to make positive changes for the elephants.
Thank you for caring.
A fancy pants gate not far from the camp.