A typical day started off with my same breakfast every morning. Fruit Loops and Toast. Where’s the meat or eggs you might ask? Well, at the Elephant Nature Park (or ENP for short) all of the meals are vegan. This goes along with the park’s idea that all animals’ lives should be valued. This doesn’t mean just elephants either; the park is home to over 600 dogs, 400 cats, 100 monkeys, and 71 elephants. We were able to help with almost all of the species. Our jobs could be maybe cutting corn for the elephants’ dinner, walking an energetic puppy, unloading food from a truck, or a disgusting job, like scooping up the small mountains of poop the elephants left as presents for us.
But all of this was worth it when we were able to experience a little bit of the happy lives the park is providing for their animals, the joyful smile of an elephant as it chomps down on its watermelon snack, or the vibrancy of a puppy when it sees us coming to say hi. These animals are living the good life at the ENP, but their lives weren’t always fun and games.
On the last full day of the week, a woman named Lek came to speak with us. Lek is the founder of ENP and, as she talked with us, we could tell how much she loves and cares for the elephants of South East Asia. She told us of how the elephants are so badly treated all over countries like Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and China. The life of an elephant in the tourist industry starts off being separated from its mother at around 3 years of age. The animal is captured and put in a cage called the Crush. In the Crush, the elephant is beaten and stabbed with sharp hooks and nails to make it fear its human captors. As we watched the video Lek showed us of the Crush, you could plainly see the elephants agony and pain. After going through the Crush, elephants can be forced into professions such as the circus, the logging industry, or being forced to carry tourists all day in the hot sun.
Many die from heatstroke or exhaustion. Others step on land mines while dragging huge logs miles and miles. The elephants usually don’t get enough to eat and are beaten many times throughout the day.
You would think that the best way to stop these horrible things from happening would be to stop the elephant tourism industry completely. But, as Lek explained to us, this would mean thousands of elephants without a job and no good land or food. The elephant tourism industry needs to continue, it just needs to turn to a right direction. The best option would be moving toward watching the elephants in the wild or in nature parks like ENP. Another option would be teaching mahouts new ways to lead the elephant that did not involve torture tactics used to break the elephant’s spirit. Elephants are suffering in Thailand and this has to stop. Lek believes the best way to do this is to educate the people. Our family probably would’ve rode an elephant if we hadn’t researched it or gone to the Park. Most tourists don’t understand what is going on behind the scenes with these elephants; and if it doesn’t stop soon, elephants may go extinct in Thailand. – Walden
Elephants trumpeting … that’s what we woke up to almost every morning at the Elephant Nature Park. Much research went in to choosing to stay at this park. At first, we didn’t realize how you weren’t supposed to ride the elephants or go to shows or anything like that. In fact, we probably would have ridden an elephant if we hadn’t done all that research. In the end, we chose to stay at the Elephant Nature Park for a week. It was an incredible experience. We had two jobs everyday. Some days we shoveled elephant poop, while others we unloaded trucks full of watermelons, bananas, and pumpkins. On a particularly hot day, we rode in the back of a truck to the corn and rice fields, where we cut corn and carried the stacks to the truck. It was hard work, which we weren’t used to, but a little hard work never killed anyone right?
But lack of food could kill someone. We ate vegan food all week. In case you don’t know, vegan is like an extreme vegetarian – no meat, eggs, milk, no anything that comes from an animal. Unfortunately, I’m a carnivore. While I would like to say I don’t eat animals, I do eat them. Granted, I feel guilty while I eat meat, but I still do it. Call me a monster, but meat is dang good. The Elephant Nature Park (or ENP as us locals call it) is home to around 600 hundred dogs, 400 cats, 100 monkeys, and 71 elephants, not to mention water buffalo, horses, and a giant pig. Some days we worked with the dogs, walking them and getting them accustomed to new dogs. It was a lot of fun! We had a ginger cat invade our room one day, and she never left. Cats generally hate me, but she loved everyone.
At the end of the week, we were shown a graphic video of elephants being beaten, tortured, and broken. The purpose of the video was to educate us and to share what we learned with others, so little by little we could all make a difference. After spending all that time with the elephants, the video was even more disturbing. We didn’t go a single day without seeing at least three elephants, and were truly able to see their personalities. They’re all pretty funny and brilliant animals.
We also read When Elephants Weep during our week at the park. The book basically cites research about how animals can love, fear, be happy, sad, and feel pain; and how we treat them like they can’t. I believed that before, but after our week at the park it was obvious. If the elephants have emotions and can feel pain, than there is no reason why they should be hurt intentionally and forced to work against their will. They can cry, scream, and smile. They’re amazing animals, and I can see why so many people are working to protect them. We do cover up the treatment of animals. We pretend we don’t know how they’re killed for our food. We pretend we don’t know how they’re tested in labs. We don’t kill people and eat them, we don’t test humans in labs. I know you’re probably thinking well animals aren’t people. But how different are we really? Animals feel emotions like us. They can’t put their pain and love into words like we can, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel it. So we should at least treat them humanely. Elephants are forced to work as tourist attractions, begging on the streets for their master, and forced to perform in shows for our entertainment. They are cut and beaten if they disobey. Even at our zoos and circuses in the United States, where did that animal come from, what market did we create and how do they treat the animals? We have the right to live and make our own choices, and so do they. No laws are enforced to protect elephants in Southeast Asia, nothing to really stop them from being tortured and broken. The Elephant Nature Park saves animals. They protect them and bring them joy. To be honest, I actually enjoyed shoveling elephant poop. I mean who wouldn’t if it meant getting to be with all those animals for a week and helping them in the process? And as Lek said, if you pay to shovel elephant poop, you must have a good heart. – Ella