Pachyderm Paradise


Have you heard “an elephant never forgets”? If we discovered how elephants retain their elephantine memory, would we find a cure for Alzheimer’s? Or perhaps you have heard of elephant graveyards; and the myth about how dying elephants make their way to the gravesite and conveniently die there, adding their bones and tusks to the piles there. Whatever the myths about elephants, I found the truth much sadder.

In Thailand today, there are some 5,000 elephants. Half live in the wild, and the other half are domesticated. Yes, elephants have lived alongside man for thousands of years, and trained to do his bidding – from carrying royalty to fighting human wars. In my previous post, I showed an elephant painting, most likely executed from memory. Most recently in Thailand, elephants were essential for the logging industry, hauling logs to the river so they may float down to timber factories downstream. However, thousands of elephants were “thrown out of work” when the Thai government banned logging in 1989.

Many of these retrenched elephants subsequently landed jobs in conservation camps, charming tourists and putting on a daily show. Although the elephants gather daily at the camp for their work, in reality, each elephant is “owned” by a family. They are considered the family pet. An elephant can live some 70-80 years, about the lifespan of a man. When an elephant has an offspring, it is given to the young man in the family, so that man and elephant can live and age together.

An elephant consumes some 200-250kg of food daily. Without the camp “jobs”, many families cannot afford to sustain the elephants and resort to begging in towns. Elephants at the camp work from about 8am to 1pm daily seven days and then spend the rest of the daylight hours foraging in the forest for food with their owners. Now for some pictures:

The day starts with some feeding by visiting tourists. Tourists buy sugar cane and bananas and handfeed them to the elephants.

And then it’s time for his bath, and they all troop down to the river for a good scrub down, and have some fun with passersby.

Is your camera waterproof? Want to try?

And then there’s the elephant show, where they raise a flag, play the harmonica, dance, play football and basketball, paint, roll over, and then show us a bit of how they used to work.

We can sit and put on silly faces!
Playing harmonica chords and showing some nifty dance moves too!
Aiming right between the goal posts
Nice work – if you can get it

Finally, there are the elephant rides. Tourists are strapped onto specially crafted seats on the elephant’s back, whilst the mahout rides on the elephant head.

Look at the size of the dung…

Said one species to the other “So you think this is your grandfather’s road?”
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33 thoughts on “Pachyderm Paradise”

  1. Nice to know about these elephants. In Northeastern India, where I live, elephants are a part of our lives and more than 2000 wild elephants roam the region.

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      1. Yes, elephant-human conflict is something that is threatening the survival of these elephants. Many are killed each year, and worst – their migratory route is deeply disturbed due to human activities.

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  2. Thank you for this lovely post! Being Canadian, I have only seen a couple of elephants in zoos…not where they should be!! I love the intelligence and majesty of elephants.

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    1. Majesty is the right word. There is a quite intelligence in their eyes too. I have seen elephants in the zoo, and the experience is so different from seeing them at the elephant camp in Thailand. The zoo elephants somehow seem “restricted”, whilst the camp elephants, whilst obedient, seem to have more independence and freedom.

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  3. Love your post on the elephants. I would love to see them someday. The ride looks a bit scary but I would have to try it too.

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    1. The place to be is Chiangmai, Thailand. I hope you get to see and ride them someday! Would love to see your pics. I ruined quite not a few photos by not bringing the lens hood, gah!

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  4. I had the chance to ride an elephant up a mountain in India a number of years ago. The experience was amazing. It was a combination of uncontested strength and power, gentleness and a fluid sort of grace all rolled into one. They are magnificent creatures. I couldn’t imagine having one as a pet! An elephant having a job sounds funny. I wonder if we are the only ones who know that.

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    1. You describe the ride just like it was! Except my elephant had a personality and decided to amble quickly down the road to pass his friends, bouncing me up and down on the way. He seemed to delight in our protests.

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  5. What incredible animals. So graceful and intelligent. What a commitment to own one and care for it and the consequences for not landing “all the necessary jobs” for these giants of the forest.

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    1. I am convinced all intelligent folk and animals need an “occupation”. I have no idea how long these camp jobs will last, what will happen to the last generation in captivity? Will they be lonely and few in number?

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  6. Wow! What a fun and informative post! What a completely different world than mine: outside of a zoo, there’s no chance of seeing any elephants in Kansas!

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    1. Yep, elephants only in Asia and Africa. But as I said in my comment above, my experience at the zoo just cannot compare to seeing them at the camp. I guess in Thailand, they can roam much further about, and have a less restricted existence. The zoo must be claustrophobic in comparison.

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  7. Frangipani, I think this is my favorite post by you. First, I love the idea of elephants finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. And second, thank you for sharing such beautiful, soulful amazing beings with us. much love to you as you continue your creative journey. Beth

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  8. Thanks for the wonderful post and the terrific photos. I remember once seeing a program, which showed elephants swimming, with nice shots from below the waterline. I have been enchanted ever since!

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    1. Oh yes, I think they are. Some mahouts do tap them vigorously with a stick, maybe to urge them on, but I don’t think the elephants mind. Other than that and some pulling of ears and foot taps while riding, I cannot spot any hand gestures which the mahouts use to instruct the elephants. It is all very subtle, and low keyed. No shouting, no whistles.

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      1. Hahahaha… you’re funny.
        Yes, the tapping bothered me too, but I noticed only some of them do it. I hope the elephants feel just a tickle through their thick hides.
        As for the ears – it is how the mahouts indicate to go left or right, very gently.

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  9. I am behind reading posts – between my job and caring for my baby granddaughter in the evening and weekends sometimes I feel like my life is not my own. I really enjoyed reading about your culture. I thought to myself “And I think I spend a lot of money on my cats!” hahahaha. It is good to know that these gentle, intelligent animals are being cared for with such kindness when here we only see them in such unnatural settings like the zoo or circus. I refuse to support the circus for this reason. I enjoy all your posts – because we have so much in common. Be sure to keep your Mother on her cognition medication. You can’t gain lost ground when you stop talking it – even for a short time then re-start. It’s important to be very consistent with it. That’s the therapist coming out in me – lol.

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