Entries in #elephant (5)


Chiang Mai Day  Trip

During the South East Asia Trail, my favourite parts were the day trips. For me they were the most memorable experiences and were the most fun too. During our stay in Chiang Mai, known as the rose of the north for its picturesque scenery, we took part in an excursion to an elephant sanctuary.

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Elephant Sanctuary

This is Boon Chuey, accepting fruit happily from James, frontier volunteer. She is one of a large number of rescued elephants we have seen today, all cared for by this elephant foundation

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Reflections on Thailand

Today is day 18 of the trail and looking back it is surreal to think how much of Thailand we have  experienced in less than 3 weeks. We have adventured from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Pai through to Kanchanaburi and we now have arrived in one of Thailand's most beautiful islands, Koh Phangan.

Before leaving for thailands paradise islands we spent the day with some of Thailands rescued elephants, bears and monkeys at a very reputable foundation. During the drive to the rescue centre we learnt about the sad reality behind many types of animal tourism and learnt about the various ways the foundation was working to improve their welfare at the centre and throughout Thailand.

Our day involved walking around the rescued animals enclosures seeing baby bears, monkeys and even Australian parrots all rescued from bad situations. In the afternoon we met many rescued elephants including Boon Mee, a beautiful 55 year old elephant who had spent her life giving rides to tourists in Thailand's tourism industry. We loved watching Boon Mee in her new home, enjoying herself on a walk and being treated to oodles of pineapple and watermelon by the volunteers every step of the way. A lovely experience and wonderful foundation to be able to support on the Eco trail.

By Shannon Burke - South East Asia Eco Trail Leader

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A Trip to the Elephant Sanctuary

About two weeks into the trail we travelled to Hua Hin to visit a foundation that works with elephants and we spent the day helping them. This was a particularly special experience for me because back home I have studied animal science and welfare and currently work with a variety of animals in different situations.

I was very excited to see one of my favourite animals and the day did not disappoint. When we arrived at the centre we were given a tour which took about an hour and we got to see rescued sun bears, which are heavily exploited for their bile, a range of gibbons, reptiles and birds and ELEPHANTS!

The tour was very informative and interesting and I felt that the whole group learnt a lot from the guide. Elephant riding is a common activity for tourists in Thailand. Contrary to popular opinion elephants are not designed to carry weight on their backs and the way they are trained is through torture and abuse to make them scared of their handler. This centre was special because we got to see elephants as they should be and the money we paid helped in the rescue efforts.

One particular rescued elephant was very friendly and we were able to feed her bananas. Due to the abuse she received during her time as a riding elephant she had gone blind in one eye and had a curved spine. Despite this she was extremely gentle and friendly; she must have been very forgiving. We got to take this beautiful elephant for a walk and it was hands down one of the best experiences of my life. Things to take: mosquito repellent, sun screen and comfy shoes.

By Alice Clarke - South East Asia Trail Volunteer

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How To Make An Elephant Smile? 

Has it ever crossed your mind of what it takes to get a wild animal to obey a human? Have you at least once considered how come giant and naturally fearless elephants kneel before a human allowing them to use their ears as ropes and let a man sit on his back causing him enormous pain?

There is a great number of people who we meet on the road that will start a conversation with a questions asking which tiger temple is it best to go to or has our team been elephant trekking already, thus I do feel the need of just putting it all out there.... But let's start from the beginning! :)

So our journey around Thailand is finally calming down: no more running to night trains or catching boats at early morning hours, we have more time to sit down and chat about the places we have visited and things we have learnt. We finally have time to discuss about what is it so "Ethical" about this trial.

In our previous blog post we have already mentioned a few of our activities: tubing and zip-lining, our choices to explore the nature without invading the natural daily routines of the ecosystems. Trust me, we could have easily taken a kick ass roaring fuel-using speed boat to explore the river and taken 4x4 jeeps to drive off road around the jungle, but we didn't. Because it is not what this is all about. It is about learning to appreciate what we still have and letting the nature breathe, it has been exploited enough already :)

Last week we have visited our good friends who manage an elephant rescue center and we were mind blown.

To give a little background of what they do - it is a rescue center for 12 elephants, a large number of different types of monkeys, a community of bears and soon to be- some tigers. It usually works two ways, animals seeking continuous medical treatments are kept in the rescue center for the rest of their lives, step by step being introduced to their natural habitats and the second way is a faster phase programmed for healthier animals who were seeking only for temporary medical treatment and are being introduced to the wilderness again.

A simple wildlife sanctuary you may say? No, it is not. The difference from the majority of the places you may come across whilst you are travelling with is that everyone in here UNDERSTANDS that animals rescued were never supposed to be Pet animals in the first place. Everyone understands that even though a Bear drinking Coca-cola may possibly attract more tourists to visit the center but it is not what the bear is supposed to be drinking. It needs to be taught to accept a well balanced diet and learn hunting skills; it should not be going through the trash.

A monkey that smokes? We have seen this at one of the temples- we did! Charming view you may say? Yes, we saw a lot of tourists taking pictures with them and offering more cigarettes, but Monkeys are NOT SUPPOSED TO smoke. We also saw how one of them attacked a girl, ripped her food bag apart, tasted all of the cookies and drank all of the fizzy drinks- does it sound familiar to any of the travelers out there? It takes ages to get the animals back on their normal track, at the rescue center it takes weeks until instead of feeding a bear a curry you can give him proper food.

Now let’s talk about an animal species that has touched us most. Elephants. Gorgeous Elephants. This sanctuary is a home for 12 of them at the moment, the majority of them with major medical spine injuries that occurred from trekking and carrying people.  Tourists. Carrying tourists. Their bodies are left with scars and injuries because to force an elephant to carry people you need to scare him. Beat them and make them obey. Only a terrified elephant will bow in front of a tourist allowing them to climb behind his neck. We met a girl on the road who was cheerfully telling us about this beautiful elephant whose ears were not round but curvy- it looked like a flower. It took me all my patience to explain her that it wasn't the sign of a good elephant breed but elephant’s ears were used as ropes and pieces were just ripped apart whilst climbing.

Here at the sanctuary we met a few types of elephants, one of which was an incredibly intelligent 12year old male who is successfully escaping his childhood traumas of 'dancing' on the streets of Bangkok. He has the wild spark and he is already very dangerous. Hopefully after reaching his maturity he will be released to a National Park but for now we left the sanctuary team creating a secret transportation plan for this male elephant to be transported to a newly built massive enclosure. His future seems to be very promising!


We were also introduced to a number of female elephants, who were used for trekking for many years. They are no longer to be touched by tourists as they are slowly falling back into their natural habitats, paired up and happily trumpeting and chatting with fellow elephants in nearby enclosures!

We have also met two female elephants who are still enjoying the attention from the people- a LOT. They absolutely adore it! It would very hard and dangerous to let them back to the nature - both of the elephants would simply try to find people and would most likely be in trouble again within a short period of time.

Once you meet them- it feels like you have met your grandma you haven’t seen all summer and she is re-living her teenage years thus it is not hard to quickly fall in love with them. We got to spend a little bit more time with these grandma-look-alikes and to make them feel  pampered we came bearing gifts- a bucket of bananas. Taking them for a long walk to stretch their legs and see a little bit of surroundings was an absolute amazing experience! It was a bit strange as all of our team members are more used to walking dogs on the side- definitely not elephants! But it was the happiest moments of our lives to see a smiling elephant enjoying the pineapples on a slow walk right next to you, not causing them any harm- just happiness. To finish the walk there is also a compulsory shower!

Distracting them like babies by putting some fruits in a bowl of water letting them to fish the food out whilst a group of us would gather around with  brooms and running water and would scrap the dust and refresh the elephant with cold water. When it is constant +36 degrees outside- a shower is a must!

We left the foundation in silence. Hearing the stories of how many exploited animals are here in Asia makes you sad and angry at the same time. It makes you want to do something about it. Or at least to try and pass the message and educate people who we constantly meet on the road of what is right and wrong. Although our thoughts were equally mixed with a smile. There ARE people who are trying to fix things and want to make a change, and there are also 12 gorgeous elephants that are finally enjoying their life 

 “If you want to change the world-people will say you are crazy, when you start changing the world- people will try to stop you, but eventually- they will join you”- Mr. Erwin. WFFT

By The South East Asia Trail Team

Find out more about the South East Asia Ethical Adventure Trail.

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