Two years ago we visited Thailand for a couple of weeks. It was our first time, the kids were younger and all they wanted to do was ride on an elephant. One day we went to the zoo and this was our first experience seeing a zoo that was in extremely bad conditions and the animals looked like they weren’t very well taken care of, they were simply used as a mean to attract tourists and money. The elephants were in chains, the gibbons as well as other animals were in a very dirty cages. I have never been so upset before, for witnessing such poor conditions for animals, maybe till then I didn’t really ask myself the ethical question, if it was right to create zoos.
We ended up going on a tour one day, which included an elephant ride. I couldn’t stop thinking about the zoo and I was concerned of what conditions these elephants were going to be in. That day, as soon as we got off from the ride, we were all on the same page, kids included: we were not going to do it ever again!
We could not accept to be part of this tourist attraction, it was absolutely not ok to see these beautiful giants being used to carry a bunch of tourists (like us) up and down a short path and if they didn’t follow directions they were whipped. After that day my kids realized, although they were young, what it meant to mistreat an animal and they were not willing to accept it.
This year during our visit in Chiang Mai we decided to go see these beautiful giants again but this time not in a zoo or a tourist attraction place, but in a Sanctuary, a safe place where they can live peacefully and eat all they want!
We picked Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary. This place is about an hour away from the downtown area of Chiang Mai. Elephants need to be in nature and peace so it is important to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In the past years the presence of sanctuaries has grown enormously in this area, fortunately people are starting to realize how important it is to protect these beautiful animals and not abuse them for pure entertainment!
At Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary they offer daily a morning and afternoon tour for a maximum of 20 people. They don’t want to stress out the elephants so they feel that this is a number that works well.
The guide picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the property. They just moved to a new site which has much more space, they have gone from 15 acres to 40!
Once we got there, they provided us with a change of clothes and shoes, than we started to interact with the elephants. The basket of bananas, that we each got, really helped in becoming friends with them, they LOVE bananas!
Mr. Pop (yes like pop corn, his Thai name is a bit more complicated!), the owner of Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary gave us a welcome introduction and explanation of what they do at the sanctuary. He also taught us the most important words to know around elephants:
Bon: open mouth, you tell the elephant when offering the food
Didi: good boy, after feeding her the food
If you know these words you are all good!
Elephants love to eat, they may spend 12-18 hours a day feeding. They need to eat 10/15 % of their total body weight, did you see how big they are?! Adult elephants can eat between 200-600 pounds of food a day. As herbivores, elephants consume grasses, tree foliage, bark, twigs, and other vegetation daily. Elephants can also drink up to 50 gallons of water a day! The cost for food and medicine is around 10,000 baht (about $300) a day!
After the first feed, we prepared their healthy food which is a mixture of: sour tamarin (a fruit that reminds you of prunes and if eaten in high quantity will have the same effect), sugar cane (they love sweets!) and banana! We mushed it all together, created a big ball and fed it to them!
After eating they all need a mud spa, in fact the mud helps them regulate their body temperature, if you want you can also jump in and help them get all mud up! Mass and Cosimo did of course and didn’t mind at all getting really muddy! When do you get a chance to spread mud all over an elephant and yourself too?!
Of course after getting muddy, also an elephant needs to get cleaned up, so they go bath in a deeper hole and of course there are plenty of volunteers ready to help. Lanna was being naughty and squirted everybody! She also loved rolling under water. Cosimo and Mass could not get out of the water, it was too much fun!
Last we all get to have a meal while enjoying watching the elephants wander around the property. Every now and then one of them would stop by to say hi and see if there were any left overs!
Who are the rescue elephants living on the property?
Right now they have 5 rescued elephants, 4 adults and 1 baby, all females. They were rescued from logging camps, riding camps and the circus. But this property will give them the chance to have around 15 total comfortably!
- Mae Tong: she is 42 years old and she loves meditating and deep in thought.
- Mae Dao: she is 37 years old, she loves good food. She is Mae Tong buddy. She is easily recognizable because of her tattoo on her back.
- Lanna: also known as spicy Lanna because she is a bit naughty! She is only 3 and is the baby, she loves to play in the water and if you are not careful she will snap a banana right away from you.
- Aoi Jai: she was pregnant but lost her baby so she has adopted Lanna as her baby and you will always see them together. She is 35 years old.
- Chaba: which means beautiful flowers, she is 39 years old. She is very big but gentle, she tends to be a bit of a loner. We had a lots more interaction with her because of her gentle nature. Emma specially felt very comfortable around her.
How do they rescue elephants?
In order to rescue an elephant you have to pay the owner an amount of money. No one wants to put down an elephant because in buddhism, the elephant is the last life so it is considered bad karma to kill them.
Mr Pop explained to me, that they settle on a price and he makes sure they don’t sell it to someone else while he is finding the money. There have been elephants for which they paid around 1.5 million baht (about $45,000)!
In order to raise money to save and take care of the elephants the sanctuary needs donations, as well as selling their products, such as the paper made from the elephant poop! Tourist visits are also very important because they help take care of the costs of such a big project. Unfortunately the government only covers a little amount which isn’t enough!
So next time you are tempted to do an elephant ride, please reconsider! Instead visit a Sanctuary, where these animals are taken care of, where you can have a normal interaction with them, which I feel is much more personalized than sitting on their backs. By visiting the sanctuary you are helping feed these animals as well as funding the next mistreated animal they are going to save!
Who is Mr. Pop (Witthaya Phongsiri)
What I loved about this place was the fact that the owner talked to us, he told us about the elephants, who they were, he made it feel so much more personal.
Mr. Pop has had a tour company for more than 10 years. He was an experienced tour guide and has seen elephants his whole life performing in shows, dancing, playing football and painting. One day Mr.Pop saw a small female elephant called King Kaew performing in a show. That day something changed in Mr.Pop. He became so sad for King Kaew, thinking she should grow up free from abuse. He wanted to give a nice home for King kaew away from the demands and pressures of the camps that too many Elephants are living in. He spent all his money to rescue King Kaew from the performance life and moved her to a beautiful new home, surrounded by nature, where she can roam free …..Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary.
Lana Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary opened June 5th, the same month of his birthday.
Mr. Pop is passionate about saving elephants. He has created the Elephant Sanctuary for this purpose. Stop by and meet him, all the lovely people who work here and most of all these gentle creatures!
For more info on tours click here!
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Check out the lovely hotel we stayed at Feel Nimman Boutique!!