Elephant Nature Park (a dedicated elephant space)
I finally made a trip down to her Elephant Nature Park whilst the storms swirled through the Anantara and turned my small river into a force of nature. My time there, I have to say, left me inspired, I know we are doing good work for elephants at Anantara and Four Seasons - the adults work but in a very controlled manner and, in doing so, provide income for their mahouts and themselves, the rescues don't work and are given as much freedom as we can (whilst allowing guests to meet and see them).
I believe our babies should be trained as humanely as possible (K. Lord's tickling method) to prepare them for domesticated life should all of this fall apart - at this point there just aren't enough donors and enough space for all elephants to be looked after without some work and it is better to take a trained elephant and let it default to a wild state than it is to take an untrained elephant and force it to earn a living. In an ideal world our kids wouldn't need to go to school, they would always have someone to cater to their whim and so would not need to be prepared for the world - more power to K. Lek and let's hope her 'ele' kids are always protected by her and her project and never need to learn about the working world, my fingers are very firmly crossed.
Our natural grazing here at the hotels is good and, though non-ideal, putting the elephants out on long chains at night helps us preserve this for years to come as well as for birds and other creatures who need this type of, increasingly rare, tall grassland habitat to survive. So the differences in our situations mean that we won't entirely follow her great example in keeping elephants happy - I still believe that, unfortunately, Thai elephants are going to have to work their way out of their current situation and I see my job as finding and promoting ethical and safe work for them to do as much as rescuing and protecting the infanthood of as many babies as we can rescue.
All of that said, I was inspired by the work K. Lek is doing, she has thirty odd elephants living as they please on a small patch of ground but it is a space entirely dedicated to the elephants - all of whom are rescued, some of whom are very badly injured through overwork or street accidents, they live in friendship groups and - as in the Anantara afternoon - the babies get to run free and play with their peers.
Following her inspiration I have made sure the elephants across at Four Seasons get to spend their break time grazing in friendship groups and, now that the grass is growing quicker than we can eat it, are deliberately left at night in these groups.
Next I want to find a piece of land close to here that we can dedicate as an ele space and with K. Lek's help, advice and guidance, replicate what she has done in a small valley close to Chiang Mai.
For those of you staying down in the Northern Capital (or interested in a long drive from here) and who don't have time to come up here and do the hands on courses we offer or see our babies being babies - I recommend you force your agent to take you to spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park, you won't be able to ride and you won't see a show, she charges sustainably and she doesn't give kick-backs to guides (policies we believe in and have always followed here) but it is worth it as you will see elephants being elephants and that's one of the best sights in the world!
A mixture of a visit to the Elephant Nature Park to see how elephants behave when left largely to their own devices - down there if they want to fight, they fight, if they want to play, they play so it means you can only get close in a very controlled manner - and a stay here at either hotel to get the full hands-on, open camp, experience (with luxury accommodation) would make for a great ele-themed holiday.
When in Chiang Mai, I recommend everyone spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park and support their fantastic work.
Profile :An errand for an elephant
Where would Sangduen Chailert's Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai be without the pals of the pachyderm?
In the four years since it opened, the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai's Mae Taeng district has proven that respect and compassion are the keys to connecting with tuskers, whether wild or domesticated. It's set itself apart from other elephant sanctuaries in the country - no rides for the tourists or stunt shows.
"Here the tourists have to entertain the elephants, not the other way around,'' says founder Sangduen "Lek" Chailert.
Sangduen opened the park almost single-handedly four years ago, and last year launched the Elephant Nature Foundation, seeking to protect the animals by reminding people that there are only about 5,000 Thai elephants left in the wild.
The park also educates locals on the humane treatment of the beasts and provides a sanctuary for abused, overworked and ill elephants from around the Kingdom.