Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park
Chiang Mai is home to Elephant Nature Park, one of the world’s leading non-profit elephant sanctuaries and rescue centers. Chang, meaning elephant, is the national symbol of Thailand. Thai people admire them for their strength, endurance and intelligence, and you’ll find many elephant symbols and souvenirs in Thailand as they are also seen as good luck.
As a part of our Spring TROVE box, we’ll be traveling to Chiang Mai and taking a virtual tour of Elephant Nature Park, where you’ll get the chance to meet a few of the incredible elephants that live there as your guide walks through the beautiful park grounds.
Elephants in Thailand
Back in the 1500’s, elephant’s strength and size were utilized for battle. Through the years, they were used in the logging industry, to entertain crowds, and eventually poached for sport or profit. These practices are detrimental to the health of the gentle giants, and elephant populations were threatened by extinction. Experts estimate that in the past century, the elephant population in Thailand went from 100,000 elephants to only 3,000 or 4,000.
Elephant Nature Park was created in direct response to this threat, to save the elephants that had been affected by cruel practices and to raise the public’s awareness to end the abuse of these incredible animals.
Called “Chiang Mai's most responsible animal sanctuary” by CNN and internationally respected as one of the leading elephant/animal sanctuaries in the world, Elephant Nature Park prides themselves on utilizing ethical tourism practices that are safe for the animals.
For example, visitors are NEVER allowed to ride the elephants. This can be incredibly painful for them and is a very common practice with domesticated elephants, so ENP’s founder started the Saddle Off! outreach program with the goal of stopping the practice at other elephant parks.
Instead, visitors to the park can help take care of the elephants. This can include feeding them, bathing them in the river, or simply taking a walk in the jungle with them. This way, visitors get the unique experience of being with the elephants without harming them in any way.
Elephant Nature Park provides a safe place for elephants to live and only continues to grow as more elephants are rescued. Since the beginning of ENP, founder Sangdeaun Lek Chailert has saved over 200 distressed elephants, setting a precedent for the world on how animals deserve to be treated.
Meet Sangdeaun Lek Chailert, the founder of ENP
Lek found her passion for healing while helping her grandfather, a shaman (spiritual healer), work with people in their community and the occasional sick or injured animal.
Lek committed her life to the preservation and well-being of animals, especially elephants being threatened by extinction. She is an internationally recognized figure in elephant conservation, winning several awards and being featured in multiple documentaries by National Geographic, Animal Planet, Discovery and the BBC.
In 2001, Lek was named Ford Foundation’s “Hero of the Planet” and in 2005, she was honored as Time Magazine’s Heroes of Asia. She was also recognized in Washington, D.C. as one of six Woman Heroes of Global Conservation in 2010. Those are only a few of the awards that she and the park have won, as Elephant Nature Park remains at the forefront of animal conservation facilities throughout the world.
Located about 60 km outside of Chiang Mai, Elephant Nature Park was founded in 1998 and currently resides on 250 acres of land. The park is home to 100 elephants, but also offers rescue and rehabilitation for cats, dogs, buffaloes and many other rescued species.
However, tourists are unable to visit the park during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a loss of income used to feed the animals. This is one of the reasons why we’re very excited to bring TROVE travelers along for a tour, because our visit will help bring some tourism dollars back to the park.
Meet the elephants
On our visit to the park, we’ll learn all about the elephants, give them a snacks, and hear about their incredible stories. Here are a few elephants we hope to see on our visit that we wanted to introduce you to:
Baby Wan Mai is one of the newest residents of ENP! She was born on May 2nd, 2020 to mom Mae Mai, premature, but very strong. In June, Wan Mai (which means “new day” or “new beginning) and mom arrived to ENP after being rescued from a difficult life in unethical tourist practices. Now, they’re both safe, happy, and together at the park.
In 2019, young Gluay Hom arrived at his new home at the ENP. Sadly, he was rescued from a zoo in Bangkok, where he lived chained to a pole and trained to do tricks for tourists. Upon arrival to the ENP, he had a lot of medical issues that resulted from his captivity.
Within a month of being at his new home, Gluay Hom was already stronger, healthier and more mentally stable. Now, almost two years later, he’s living a healthier life, improving more every day. His resilience is incredible and a true testament to the park’s mission of taking care of animals ethically and kindly, the way they deserve to be treated!
Another new ENP resident arrived in October 2020 after being rescued by a monk in Thailand named Pra Arjarn Moche. His followers helped him free a sweet, old elephant named Ratana Kham from a life in “riding work” (being ridden by tourists).
Ratana Kham, accompanied by Pra Arjarn Moche and ENP staff, was walking to her new home in the park when they noticed she was walking a bit slow. When questioned, her previous owner admitted that she was attacked by a bull a few months beforehand while tightly chained, unable to protect herself.
Now, finally home at ENP, she’s finally receiving the medical care she needs to get better and live a long, happy life in the park!
We hope you join us on our tour of this incredible sanctuary with our Spring TROVE box. To truly experience Chiang Mai, it’s essential to learn about and meet the beautiful elephants that are so deeply valued in Thai culture. What are you most excited to learn about on our visit?