Mike died almost a year ago but he was in my dream the night before what would have been our 26th anniversary and gave me a wonderful message. I know I am grieving and a widow but I felt happy to wake up today. I had such a good marriage with him and I have had more than a few dream visits so I knew today would be great. Also, I was on my way to play with the elephants!
We boarded a small van to the Ran-Tong Elephant Save and Rescue Centre. It was located about one hour from the hotel outside Chiangmai Mai.
Upon arrival, we met Lova, our volunteer guide from Sweden. She had come for a one week volunteer program and was now running the program in exchange for room and board.
She gave us pants and a shirt to wear so we changed in bamboo floor shower rooms. We wore swim suits under the clothes because she explained we would be getting muddy and wet. She gave us shoulder bags that we filled up with sugar cane, “elephant candy”. After we gathered treats, we walked in flip flops down a path to where the elephants stay.
The mahouts are the men who are assigned one elephant each. At this center there were 2 moms with young babies. One mahout works with both mom and baby so they are not separated. Elephants reach puberty at 10 years old and can live to be 60. The mahouts live in small shacks next to the elephants area.
We were discouraged to see that the elephants were tied up to poles on ropes. However, it was explained to us that there is a difference between domestic and wild elephants here. Wild elephants are very rare in Thailand and can be dangerous. These were rescued and already domesticated. Also the babies live with their moms. If allowed to walk freely they could trample farmers crops and be shot. The elephants would want to be close to people since they associate people with food. Unfortunately, not all people would be nice to them (ivory trade). Therefore I agree that it’s better to keep these beautiful animals safe with people who care for them, take them out for fun walks, and play in mud daily for stimulation with tourists like us.
So after we were introduced and told their rescue stories, we got to work chopping sugar cane.
This was so that the elephants would follow us on the walk and they did. So we fed them.
I even got a kiss.
Then we walked to the mud puddle. Not everyone went in but I did. The middle of the pond was really mushy. It was our job to get that mud and rub it on the elephant’s skin. They get mosquito bites and sun burn so the mud is good for them. They even roll around in it.
We had a mom and her 11 month old baby named Ran Tong and a 2 year old named Lynchee with our group of 8 people. After playing in the mud, we walked over to the water and rinsed all the mud off the elephants with clean water. Little Ran Tong had a difficult time climbing up the bank of the mud puddle. It was like watching the Little Engine That Could. I think I can, I think I can…and he did!
It was so joyful to be in the water with these beautiful creatures – I couldn’t stop smiling.
We took a group photo and then had showers and lunch back where we started.
It is quite expensive to rescue elephants. The mother and baby cost $116,000. There are some good elephant rescue centers here in Thailand and some not so good ones so do your research before you visit. The website for the place I visited is http://www.elephant-training.com.