Elephant Care Centre, Chiang Mai
I’ve always been wary of trips that involve animals for fear of unwillingly getting involved in their exploitation and have avoided any trips involving elephant rides etc so when I heard about a retirement home for elephants where you could go and help care for these amazing animals in their final years I have to say I was intrigued.
The Elephant Care Centre in Chiang Mai offers a home to elderly elephants once their working lives had finished. Previously, elephants who had spent their lives working moving logs in the depths of the rain forest were simply set free to roam the jungle but after a life of captivity and human contact there was no way that they could survive alone.
The peaceful camp is currently home to 12 elderly elephants, ranging in age from sixties to their early nineties. Each elephant is cared for by their mahout and enjoys a day mixed of exercise and roaming, feeding sessions, mud baths and showers.
Our day started as we were immediately greeted by an elephant enjoying ‘buffet time’ in one of the centre’s lush meadows. The elephants are always pleased to see visitors as their arrival indicates treats – in this case banana. Our first task, after changing into uniform, was to each distribute a basket of bananas to the elephants who excitedly selected the fruit with their trunk and popped it into their mouths, open ready and as if smiling. After treats are evenly distributed our attention is drawn to the task of preparing lunch – in this case grasses mixed with rock salt and vitamins. Elephants are unable to chew their food properly so the grasses are chopped and ground into bite size pieces. Served in giant trugs, each elephant will eat up to six of these a day so it’s a constant job mixing their food.
It soon becomes apparent that life for an elderly elephant is all about eating as after preparing elevenses and lunch we’re onto making a healthy afternoon tea for them with the in house herbalist. First are sticky tamarind balls, loaded with added vitamins followed by sticky rice banana leaf parcels – a sort of elephant cereal bar that they absolutely adore. These are made by boiling up rice in giant woks until a thick porridge is made and adding more tamarind for sweetness- these elephants love their sugar!
Slaving over a hot wok in thirty plus degree heat can take it out of you so it’s the perfect time to take a swim with the elephants. Now it may be warm for us but we’re not as used to it as the elephants who may refuse to wash as it’s too cold for them- it’s winter in Chiang Mai after all. Not so today as after a good rub and roll in the mud both of our elephants decide it is time to work of their lunch with a cooling dip in the river. With buckets and scrubbing brushes we join them and help get all that mud off whilst our elephants suck up water and shower us with their trunks – with a gleam in their eyes and making sure that no one misses a soaking- magical!
Dried from the sun we walk our elephants back to their shaded stables to sample some of the treats we made them – thank fully they’re a hit and we earn a hug for our trouble.
The Elephant Care Centre is a peaceful, magical haven for these wonderful animals and is an incredible place to visit safe in the knowledge that you are enhancing the lives of the elephants rather than exploiting them. The centre is not for profit and funded by a mixture of benefactors and tourism so you know that your money is going straight to the care of the elephants.