There’s not words to describe how incredible this day was. There were some people on facebook who were worried about this because of the reputation of SOME elephant parks in Thailand… but I can assure you all that this was a well run place, with happy, playful and fat elephants, who work no longer than 6 hours a day (and that includes the standing around waiting for us)… so for you people, read on…
An Elephant at the park... Note food... there was lots of it.
We signed on for a days Mahout (meaning “Elephant driver”) training. The day started with a trek on the elephants around the park area, so we could get a feel for them. At this point the elephants are carrying wooden seating strapped to them like a saddle. At first it looks a little heavy, but I can assure you these ladies of the forest can carry far more than you can imagine… in fact to give you an idea of the strength these animals have, there was a young one (previously trained for the logging industry) trying to be guided by the Mahout down a track in the forest. She missed the pathway and so the Mahout tried to reverse her and set her on the right path. She just got a little bored I think and instead of reversing, she just decided to push a tree down and make her own way. I’m not kidding… it was amazing to watch and looked like nothing to her. This proved to me that if they want to go somewhere, then they bloody well go there.
Me on Bogan, Jane is behind me seething cause I was first 🙂
After the first trek we adjourned for lunch and chatted among ourselves for a while until the guide arrived with our “fashionable clothing” for the day. Denim knee shorts and a denim top (and I’m not talking Levis here people!). After kitting up we were led to a building with walls adorned with images and writings about the care of these animals. From medical procedures to calming techniques (for when they are hormonal and angry – you’ll have seen a lot of this on TV when they run amock… because their owners don’t know enough NOT to use the elephant that week).
Feeding time... and fly swatting time.
Anyway after this it was “learn to speak elephant” time, which is not really true cause it’s actually the Laos language. But anyway we were rushed through a list of simple commands such as “Phai” which means “Go” and “Hao” which means “Stop”, then there was “Khai” which means “Left” and “Quoa” which means “Right” and the rest of them I can’t remember.
OK it was now our turn to drive the elephants. This was the best part, because the “saddles” are removed and we end up just sitting on the elephants bare back.. much better! The Mahouts sit behind you (because the elephant is used to them) and still use the commands just in case your elephant ignores you because they don’t really know you! Except for Jane who fell out with her Mahout and was riding bare back on her own, with the disgraced Mahout walking behind her (this was because earlier Jane had a disagreement with him about the strap position when her elephant was wearing her “saddle” because “Bogan” (her elephant) had given a loud trumpet and refused to walk any further because the strap was nipping her underbelly) – they made up (Jane and the Mahout) later though.
Me and my girl 🙂 Jane's around somewhere!
I am always amazed by the effect Jane has on animals… and I mean ANY animal. Bogan absolutely took to her straight away… amazing to watch, not just for me but the Mahout also… “she never do that with any tourist” he said as Bogan explored Janes face with her huge trunk. She is a true ANIMAL WHISPERER. I can confidently say that if there were no Mahouts around at all Jane would have got on fine and coped the whole day with all 11 of them. She’s the kind of person that if she fell into a shark infested pool, she’d have them doing syncronised swimming by the end of the day!!
Jane and me getting a soaking from Bogan
The day ended with a trek down to the river where we trainees are supposed to wash the elephants. However the reverse is true… You get completely soaked by them… They plodge into deep water and for a moment you think you have lost your elephant in the water. Until she surfaces, and blows gallons of water in your face… absolutley hilarious. They loved it as much as we did. There’s a command the mahouts use “Boun Boun!” which means “blow water”. So of course everyone gets a soaking. Except for me. No matter how many times the mahout tried to get my elephant to soak me she just wouldn’t do it! Bless her 🙂
Jane getting a tenth soaking... another 40 to go...
Absolutely amazing day spent with amazing animals… I think we’ll do this again when we get to Chiang Mai’s Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. Absolutely knackered now though. No drink tonight, just sleep.
Here’s another video for your viewing pleasure…
And just in case you’re wondering… the chains you see around thier necks are only there because it was the end of the day and the elephants were to be tethered for the evening in the forest, so they carry them for the final walk (after dropping us off). The chains are 35 metres long and they are only tethered to stop them wandering onto farm land and destroying crops… for which the farmers would shoot them.