Mae Taeng Travel Blog› entry 70 of 251 › view all entries
May 18th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
Many, many elephants died. Elephants require lots of food, certainly more than unemployed loggers can afford. Some elephants were sold to Myanmar, and some were sold to work as city “beggars,” garnering big money from tourists who pay to see the elephants do tricks. Some got jobs giving tourist rides. The lucky ones are treated well and enjoy good relationships with their handlers, or mahouts, but many have not been so lucky.
Today I met a woman, named Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, who has made it her mission in life to make better lives for the elephants of Thailand. We paid a visit to the elephant sanctuary she founded, Elephant Nature Park, and what an incredible place it is.
The park, situated in a gorgeous valley 1.5 hours from Chaing Mai city, is home to over 30 elephants that Lek has rescued from bad situations. Steve and I fed a basket of food to an enormous guy named Max (reportedly the tallest elephant in Thailand), whose misshapen front leg was the result of an improperly healed broken bone. The elephant Jokita is completely blind because her handler on the logging camp took out her eyes with a slingshot.
Not all the stories have happy endings. In 2001 (I think), Lek guided a documentary filmmaker to view a paah jaan, the process where young elephants are “broken in.” The elephants are taken from their mothers, put in a tiny pen so they can’t move, and deprived of food, sleep, and water for several (up to 7) days. During this time they are really tortured: jabbed with nails, metal hooks, and hot irons, poked in the sensitive inner ear for maximum pain, beaten on the trunk with sticks. This is supposed to break their spirit and make them better workers.
Then the documentary was released (we watched it at the Park -- brutal. There was not a dry eye in the room.), and caused some very negative attention to be focused on the country. Many Thais denied that this type of treatment is common. Lek received death threats for her role in the story. The baby elephant, Ging Mae, was poisoned and she died.
The good news is, of course, that this "elephant heaven" exists... and Lek is now receiving accolades. In fact, she was named Time Magazine’s Asia Heroes of 2005 for her work (article link below).
For more information:
The park's website:
Times article on Lek:
Controversy surrounding the paah jaan video:
Another visitor's article, better than my blog: http://www.travelintelligence.com/travel-writing/1003791/Asia/Thailand/The-North/Chiang-Rai/Elephant-Conservation.html
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