I recently visited the Elephant Nature Park in the north of Thailand, just north of Chiang Mai. These photographs endeavor to capture the spirit of these loveable giants, and to entice the viewer to ask questions about the ethics of allowing these animals to become extinct in the wild, only to exist in a domestic role to serve humans. Their journey to freedom begins with awareness of their future. These intelligent creatures live in family groups and will go to extraordinary lengths to protect one another. Their emotions and relationships are similar to humans, forming strong bonds and friendships. Despite the appearance of having thick skin, they in fact are very sensitive animals. There are many parallels between elephants and humans. Yet, humans have become the key reason for extinction that now faces these amazing animals.
In Thailand poaching is not the only enemy of these ancient creatures. Today, wild elephants struggle to find the basic necessities of life as protected land diminishes and many are captured to become domestic working elephants. The booming Thai elephant tourist industry puts yet another high price tag on the head of young elephants, who are brutally trained with pain and fear to make them perform. Their plight falls mainly on deaf ears.
Every day, wild baby elephants are captured and taken away from their mothers (who are often killed) and forced to undergo a torturous training to domesticate them. This practice essentially breaks the spirit of the elephant, using fear of pain to train them to accept riders on their backs, perform tricks and paint. However, ENP provides a sanctuary for these creatures broken by tourism and the illegal logging industry. At ENP, there are no tricks. There are no rides. No elephant paintings can be bought. Here, these elephants are allowed to live their lives free from bullhooks, free from abuse. Elephant Nature Park offers the chance to interact with elephants without exploiting them.
If you want to get involved to help Asian elephants find their way to freedom, get in touch with Save Elephant Foundation where there are many ways you can help, from writing letters as an elephant activist, volunteering in one of the programs, or making a donation. If you are visiting Thailand as a tourist, refrain from supporting the numerous elephant camps who are offering elephant rides, paintings and circus tricks and support an organization like Elephant Nature Park where you are part of the solution not the problem.