Emma Barratt, 23, graduated with a geography degree in the summer and wanted to travel and do voluntary work before starting her career.
She helped out at the Elephant Nature Park which provides a refuge for damaged and distressed elephants that have suffered as a result of the country’s tourism and logging industries.
Miss Barratt, Studied at Icknield Community College in Watlington and The Henley College, said: I learned a great deal and had my eyes opened to the tremendous cruelty that surrounds elephant tourism in Thailand. I had no idea of the suffering these magnificent animals endure.
In order for elephants to become suitable for the rides and trekking that tourists demand, they are literally beaten into submission.”
On her first day at the park, Miss Barratt and the other volunteers were shown a documentary about working elephants.
She recalled: In order for the animals to be deemed safe and obedient enough for tourist rides, they are made to endure ‘the crush’, where young elephants are put in a cage and held there while their owners beat and torment them. The elephant will remember this dreadful experience for the rest of its life, living in constant fear that it will be returned to ‘the crush’ if it disobeys its owner.
She spent time at the park getting to know the rescued elephants and discovering their soft natures.
They quickly bond with each other and are able to act more like they would in the wild, she said.
Two elephants named Jokia and Mae Perm were my favourites. They had a great story of friendship at the end of a heart-breaking journey.
Jokia Jokia is a female elephant who born at a Karen village along the Burmese border. During her younger days the Karen family used her to work in the logging trade in order to make money to support their family. Jokia was so depressed that she refused to work, resulting in her owner blinding her with a sling shot as punishment. Since coming to the park, Mae Perm has taken care of Jokia, never leaving her side.
Tourism is the backbone of Thailand’s economy and elephants are a big attraction for visitors.
However, the elephant park wants to prove that the tourism industry can thrive without harming the animals.
The park wants to make sure that elephants are treated with kindness and given a more natural way of life that still enables tourists to get up close and spend some time with these amazing animals.
The Elephant Nature Park is a responsible way for people to get close to the elephants in the knowledge that you are not promoting the harmful practices that have become so entrenched in the tourism industry.
Things won’t change immediately but if more people are made aware of the issues and visit nature parks rather than going on elephant rides that are widely advertised by our travel agents, we can make a difference to the lives of Thailand’s elephants.
The park volunteers have to work hard, with daily duties including shelter cleaning, washing and preparing elephant food, cutting grass, building fences and planting trees.
Miss Barratt said: The surroundings are incredible, probably the most beautiful place I have ever seen, with a river for the elephants to bathe in, but it was clear that the park needed volunteers.
She believes that her experience with the elephants was much more rewarding than riding one and says she would recommend the experience to anyone with an interest in the animals.
Elephant Camp Chiangrai
An elephant ‘drive’ at sunrise. A dip in the river. Treks through bamboo groves and rice paddy. A rare glimpse at life in a traditional mahout’s village. The Elephant Camp at Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa is designed along the lines of the traditional mahout’s villages found in the hills of Northern Thailand in the days when logging employed the majority of Thailand’s elephants.
The Royal Thai Government, with Royal support, set up the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC) to act as a central body for the conservation of elephants, both domestic and wild and the communities that depend on them for their livelihood. Anantara Golden Triangle is proud to host the Northern extension of the Centre’s activities.
A true highlight of the Anantara Experience at Anantara Golden Triangle, our Elephant Camp and its resident cast of jumbo beauties offers our guests a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with these gentle giants
For more information or to volunteer, visit www.elephantnaturepark.org
To learn more about the conservation efforts of The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, please visit: http://www.helpingelephants.org/home.html