Days pass quickly at the Elephant Nature Park, but the novelty of staying here and exploring this amazing place does not end. I continue to be mesmerized by the elephants I meet each day, never before have I been so close to such immense and beautiful animals. As a weekly volunteer, my day to day responsibilities rotate. Elephants are 10,000 pound vegetarians and to feed 70 of them takes a lot of food. Several of the weekly volunteering jobs revolve around the food consumed; this includes unloading watermelon and pumpkin trucks, washing cucumbers, and cutting corn. We are also responsible for cleaning up the aftermath of the food consumption, scooping poop and raking up old corn stalks. While these latter two jobs seem unappealing, they were actually some of my favorites as it gave me an excuse to spend the whole day walking around the park surrounded by the animals. Since the elephants have free range of the park, a day spent on the grounds means a lot of time elephant watching and interacting.
I've gotten to know some of the herds here and I'm proud to be able to identify a number of the elephants. There's Navann, a 3 year old who is constantly getting into to trouble despite the watchful eyes of his mom and nannies. Lucky, a 31 year old who is completely blind from her days in the circus. Hope, a teenage elephant going through an angsty phase that includes throwing dirt at people. And my favorite elephant, Mae Jan Peng, a sweetheart with a red flower placed through the hole in her ear, a hole created by her owner's bullhook. Most of the elephants are completely friendly, although some are still not comfortable around humans and wander in the nearby jungle, never to be approached by visitors.
I love the late afternoon when the elephant migration begins. At 4pm, each herd walks from their favorite hang out spot in the park to their night time enclosures. It is my favorite time to sit at the main lodge as the elephants pass herd by herd in front of me. Every day I feel fortunate to have spent a whole week here. In 1900, Thailand was home to 300,000 elephants, now there are less than 6,000. It is the least I can do to volunteer my time with the elephants here at ENP and I hope that future education and activism will allow more of Thailand's working elephants reprieve from their inhumane situations.