Ravi captured our experience with the dogs at ENP in his last post. As I look through the pictures and think about our time there I want to hop on a plane and go back! It has been about a month and a half since we have been there and now we are waiting out a storm (seriously gale force winds) in New Zealand and have some extra time to catch up on our travels. I wanted to post about our experience with the elephants as well as some random thoughts on my decision to go vegan.
Elephants are such beautiful creatures and we spent as much time as we could watching them stroll around the park, eat, scratch, throw dirt on themselves, get in the river, then repeat. We also learned a lot about the elephant industry both for work and tourism. What I can tell you is that please don’t ever buy an elephant painting or go for a ride. Generally speaking, unless you really know the behind the scenes operations of the park or industry, the methods used to “tame” the elephants are extremely cruel and painful for the elephants. For a more vivid account if you don’t believe me look up elephant “crushing” this is the term they use to describe the process of domesticating an elephant. Beware that the video footage is disturbing. Baby elephants are usually separated from their mothers within days of being born and beaten by their mahout to instill fear into the elephant to obey. If the elephant does not obey it will be beaten-this is what tames the elephants not their willing obedience and love for their mahout.
All of the elephants at the park except for the those born at the park have gone through the crushing ritual as they worked as street begging elephants, schelping people on their backs for tours, loggers, or as breeders. Many have permanent disabilities due to being blinded by the hook, have psychological problems (constant rocking), and broken bones that did not heal properly after being force bred. After realizing the plight of these creatures, watching them roam around free from abuse was beautiful. Rather than going for a ride, bathing them, or even touching (would you like some strangers come up and touch your face?) them we enjoyed just sitting on the bank of the river or benches on the platform to watch them. Every morning the elephants would walk by the eating area as they made their way out to the fields from their evening shelters, in the afternoon they would go to the river and gracefully bathe. It is quite something watching a huge elephant float around in the river washing itself and cooling off. That was my favorite time of the day to watch their activities. And of course the babies are adorable.
The park is working on developing a refuge in Cambodia and Myanmar where the elephants that are able to can be released to a protected area and live more naturally without tourists or evening confinement in shelters. They are also working to challenge the cultural ritual of crushing to more humane methods of positive reinforcement, their efforts however are often met with staunch resistance and even sabotage. The founder of the park, Lek Chailert, is a very busy activist with multiple projects going at once. Sure the park isn’t perfect and there are things they would like to change as well, but they continue to improve and persevere for the well-being of animals. If you get a chance to visit Thailand this is a must-do. Visit www.elephantnaturepark.org to learn more.
As you can probably guess from the above, being at the park raised my level of consciousness toward animals and inspired my decision to go vegan. So far it has been much easier and rewarding than I thought. I always thought I need my cheese and ice cream but I’ve found I really don’t miss them (granted it has only been a month and a half). My decision to go vegan wasn’t based on trying to be healthier or another diet fad, but because of my raised level of conciousness about the treatment of animals and our connectedness as living beings. (Although a surprising benefit for me is that I have a lot more energy). It is quite tragic the way many animals are treated so that we can use their products from their skin, fur, wool, meat, milk, or etc. Not to mention the environmental toll the meat industry takes. In many ways we use animals as slaves, which is not ok with me. Being around all the sheep in New Zealand has made me realize how the wool industry can be quite cruel as well (look up museling). I realize being vegan isn’t for everyone, but the next time you drive by a cow or pig or sheep or the like pause for a moment to consider it’s existence, life, and living condition. In our protein crazed culture consider that you can get plenty of protein from vegetables, grains, beans, tofu, etc. There are also plenty of awesome synthetic fabrics out there that you can use in place of leather, silk, or wool. Being vegan is EASY and YUMMY!