The importance of elephants to southeast Asian culture goes back centuries, and they are often prominently featured on temples and shrines as a sacred figure. Sadly, they have been abused in circuses and work camps, and poached for ivory, and are now on the endangered species list. We had the opportunity to spend the day at Baan Chang Elephant Park which works to acquire and rehabilitate abused elephants.
First, we changed into our mahout clothes. A mahout is an elephant handler and it is a job typically passed on through the generations of a family. A young boy will get an elephant and they will be together for life.
Next we learned about the diet of an elephant. They eat up to 18 hours a day (330 lbs of vegetation)! This lady was preparing sugar cane for us to feed to the elephants.
Time to feed.
They seemed to like the bananas the most, and would eat the entire thing, peel and all. Maybe the sugar cane was too much work?
Watching the agile way the elephants used their trunks was simply amazing.
It is a bit intimidating being up close and personal with a creature of this magnitude.
The Asian elephant is a bit smaller than its African counterpart, and has two lumps on its head, rather than one.
An elephants trunk has over 60,000 muscles!
Elephant skin is about two inches thick, except for the ears, which are quite sensitive. The elephant flaps its ears as a way to cool down, and due to the many veins in the ear, the blood gets cooled and travels throughout the body.
Next up, time to learn to mount the elephant, also learn our commands and how to steer the elephant.
The mahouts seemed to have a great relationship with their elephants, and the elephants were trained to follow their voiced commands. In fact, the mahouts lived in huts about 20 feet from their elephant and even know their elephants voice. (The mahout did carry the elephant training hook, but we were told, only as a safety precaution for the guests. I never saw the elephants mistreated in any way.)
We learned that all elephants had very different personalities. She was very friendly.
When asked who wanted to try first, Ella raised her hand without hesitation. No surprise there!
Her elephant was about nine years old.
My elephant was about 23 years old. They have a life span similar to a human, and can actually live to 100 years old under the right circumstances!
This was a truly thrilling experience!
Ella didn't want to get off.
Eva volunteered next, she was nervous, but pushed through it. I was proud of her.
You just rest your hands right on the elephants head for stability.
Now she's loving it!
And, one more pic. I absolutely love this one.
Matt's turn. The mahout's complimented his form.
Now that the practice session was over, it was time for lunch!
I could smell some amazing sauteed garlic as we washed up. I also loved how the dried garlic looked hanging along the kitchen area.
The outdoor patio was especially lovely.
We were served a wonderful pad Thai, with egg and tofu.
And fish ball soup. Not my thing. Matt said it was a hot dog texture with a fishy flavor. Enough said. But, the broth was a fabulous coconut milk base with a spicy kick. Yum!
And, lastly, pineapple for dessert.
After getting our fill, it was time to ride. Bird's eye view.
Ella and I shared an elephant, and I loved watching its big ear flap against her leg.
A truly unforgettable experience. It was awesome feeling those big, powerful shoulders move up and down.
We rode bare back, because the saddles you sometimes see, can be very painful for the elephant.
This elephant park had over 120 acres of land for the elephants to live on as a safe haven. Land in this region is getting scarcer with each passing year.
After riding for about 30 minutes, the elephants took a break and had dip in the lake. Apparently, the three things elephants love most are "eating, scratching, and getting wet."
I still can't get over how close we were to these magnificent creatures!
We got back on our elephant and rode about another 30 minutes. The elephant hair was quite coarse and got kind of scratchy. I was glad I wasn't in shorts.
Next, was everyone's favorite part. We got to bathe the elephants!
The girls climbed right up on their backs, and we scrubbed them down with little brushes.
Ella and Eva took this job very seriously.
The elephants seemed to be in pure bliss, with eyes closed and enjoying every moment.
They also seemed to love being doused with buckets of water.
Water fight! Ella and Eva loved getting sprayed by this elephant.
This was their highlight, for sure!
Sadly, it was time to get out of the water. Ella's mahout let her ride the elephant out of the water.
She was definitely in her element.
After a shower in a partially open-air shower stall, (I loved listening to the resident roosters during the shower), we relaxed until the bus ride home.
These hammocks were actually really comfortable.
This was a truly amazing day that we won't soon forget. I pray that these magnificent creatures are around for many years to come!