February 14th… my birthday! (Hannah speaking). I had booked an elephant experience with Jungle Sanctuary, a 2hr ride outside of Chiang Mai in the surrounding mountains. We were introduced to an elephant family of 7 and fed them bananas and sugar cane, watching them and getting to know them a little before lunch.
After lunch, the guide explained a little about how the sanctuary was founded and is run: the elephants are bought from local farmers who previously used them for labour and wanted the elephants to lead happier, healthier lives at the sanctuary instead (in return for compensation). Elephants are not ridden, are fed +300kgs a day and were relatively free to roam the area. They are not allowed to wander too far into the jungle or surrounding villages, however, to prevent injury to them or damage to the locals’ crops, so we learnt to make balls of medicine to feed them to replicate what they would find for themselves in the wild.
Then we led the elephants to a mud hole, but they weren’t too interested and so moved straight on to the waterfall for a bath/shower and scrub from the volunteers. Another hour of feeding and mingling followed before the long journey back to the city.
This experience was so special as I adore elephants and think they are truly amazing animals; it was fantastic to be so close to them and be their care giver for the day. However, after the trip I read some reviews online that were really negative and detailed harsh treatment some volunteers had witnessed. It’s so difficult to know which trip to go with as most have now jumped on the “humane, eco-friendly” bandwagon even if they really aren’t. I did lots of research beforehand and only saw good treatment whilst we were there, especially by not riding them; the elephants didn’t seem sad or distressed, only a little disinterested in what seemed to me too large a group booked in every day. Overall, I hope we did a good thing and I enjoyed my birthday so much with some special creatures.