Day 121 – Elephants, originally uploaded by bexadler.

I’ve been an elephant fanatic since I was a very little girl. I slept with a stuffed elephant and was fascinated by these amazing creatures for many years. I’ve stopped wearing elephant t-shirts and do not own a collection of elly figurines, but I still have big love for them in my heart so when I learned that there was an opportunity to volunteer with rescued elephants in Thailand I knew I’d have to do it some day. Well, that time has finally come, and it was all I’d hoped it would be.

I spent the past week volunteering at the Elephant Nature Foundation‘s sanctuary for rescued elephants in northern Thailand, where I shoveled elephant poo, washed and prepared elephant food, bathed elephants, and learned the basics of elephant vet care. I also learned the stories of these rescued elephants, many of which would break even the meanest of hearts.

There are orphans whose mothers were killed by abusive owners and were saved by the Elephant Nature Foundation from having the same fate as their mothers. There are elephants who were abused in the logging industry, and others who were brought here after having their feet blown off by landmines in Burma. We watched videos documentaries of the systematic abuse elephants endure in this part of the world and were all cringing in our chairs.

For me, it was an eye-opening experience about how the tourism industry directly effects the welfare of these animals here. Many tourist pictures from Thailand will show trekking trips that involve riding the back of an elephant through the rainforest. The unfortunate, and unseen by tourists, side to this is the years of abuse these animals endure to be tamed for tourist consumption. I don’t mean to preach here, but I am grateful for places like the Elephant Nature Foundation that are finding positive ways for tourists to interact with elephants and I hope that their example will encourage other tourist operations to seek more animal friendly ways to allow people to interact with elephants here. Because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to hang out with elephants?

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