My friend Bernie is just back from a few months living in Chiang Mai in Thailand and brought back these elephant pictures from the Mae Tang Elephant Park that he visited while he was there. The elephant below is painting a T-shirt which will then be sold to raise money for the park.
You’ll find many different elephant parks in northern Thailand and around Chiang Mai. The elephants once worked in the forest to move logs, but since the logging trade was banned in 1988 you can see them by visiting one of these centres where they work with their mahouts to put on a performance for you.
There are around 80 elephants at this particular camp, 50 of which are owned by the camp and the rest are brought in by the mahoots who own them, whenever they cannot find work and so cannot afford to feed the elephants. At night the elephants are taken up into the forest, which is their natural habitat to rest and sleep. The camp supports 300 local people in direct employment and an estimated 1000 indirectly rely on the income from visitors.
The MaeTang Elephant Park is 45 minutes out of Chiang Mai towards Chiang Dao and the owners are in the process of setting up an elephant clinic to provide veterinary care for the elephants. At Mae Taeng they take a “soft” approach to elephant training and the mahouts who are sent to nearby Lampang to be trained to look after the elephants, some of which are fourth generation born in captivity.
There are different views as to whether it is the right way to treat the elephants to keep them in captivity and perform for tourists, but elephants have always worked in this area and by establishing the elephant clinic at Mae Taeng, they will enhance the veterinary care of the elephants. Elephants can have health problems, such as constipation, caused by eating too many banana branches and insect infestation under their skin which has to be checked for daily.
By having the clinic on the premises, they will avoid sometimes having to drive a sick animal to Lampang to see the vet, not ideal with such a huge animal and also stressful for the elephant.This elephant clinic will invite visiting vets from all over the world, who want to get experience treating elephants, to come to stay and will be equipped with a convalescing and nursery area as well as the natural and conventional medicines to treat the elephants. The clinic will also provide free veterinary care to all elephants in the MaeTang area, not just those at the park.
Elephant camps are an important part of the tourism industry in Thailand and provide local employment for those who would have formerly been employed in logging, so enjoy your encounter with these gentle giants but make sure you choose an elephant centre that has high standards of animal welfare.