Ok, Elephant camps in Thailand require a back story as I am no fan of animals in captivity. Elephants were used in the “logging ” industry in Thailand to move (as the name suggests) huge logs. They were notoriously ill treated. Eventually this market collapsed and the state outlawed the practice of using elephants for logging. This left elephant owners with a huge burden as elephants are obviously expensive to maintain (as you can imagine, they eat a lot!).
Elephant camps popped up all over Thailand to appeal to tourists to make an income to maintain these animals. Some camps are genuinely interested in caring for the animals, others are only interested in making money out of them.
It took about an hour to get to the Maetang Elephant park from the hotel. I was excited to see the elephants because even though I have lived in Africa my entire life, I have not seen a real, live elephant in forever (bury my head in shame). I had seen Asian elephants in India but that was a long time ago. Maetang has a good reputation with elephant conservation societies so I was not too worried about animal abuse.
We got to ride on the back of the elephant on a heavy steel chair. It was a hell of a bumpy ride! I could tell our Mahout (elephant handler) had a good bond with the animal as he never used his hammer and just whispered into the elephant’s ear (which pleased the PETA activist in me). Along the ride, we met several other elephant riders. One beautiful elephant had her calf running next to her feet which was adorable. That elephant’s Mahout was a complete asshole. He was hitting the mother elephant with his hammer like it was a joke and the poor animal was even bleeding. My husband and I were horrified.
After that I had a bitter taste in my mouth. There was an elephant show after that where the elephants did amazing things like play soccer, basketball and even paint beautiful pictures which they put up for sale.
As amazed as I was by the talented elephants, I couldn’t help but wonder what the Mahouts do to get the elephants to be so disciplined. Am I judging all of them because of one bad apple? I don’t know. I just could not get over the sadness I saw in that majestic animal’s eyes.
I can only hope that this was an isolated incident but I somewhat doubt it.