ELEPHANTS are known as the gentle giants of the animal kingdom and have been used by many cultures as work animals highly prized by their owners.
But they have also been very badly mistreated, only now we hear of stun guns and other devices used on elephants to get them to perform circus tricks, this is a story of how to enjoy a holiday and help the elephants at the same time.
Monika Kofler and partner Ray Berry of Shepparton had heard of the Elephants Nature Park in Northern Thailand, a place where injured and mistreated elephants are brought for rehabilitation.
They had seen the park on a television program where a call was made for volunteers to come to Thailand and help out.
Monika and Ray decided this was for them, they booked their flights and a week in Phuket to fit in with their volunteer work at the elephant park.
Monika says you can volunteer for a day or two or longer, they decided to spend a week at the reserve.
They paid $450 each, this covers your accommodation at the nature park and food, having made the booking from Australia, Monika and Ray were not too sure of what to expect.
On arrival they found the accommodation to be quite good, complete with their own ensuite and the food was very good, full buffet meals.
They were put to work on their very first day washing fruit and vegetables to get rid of any insecticide before they fed the elephants.
There were 35 Elephants in the park while Monika and Ray were there, many had come from Burma where they had been mistreated in logging accidents, others have legs missing from landmines, another a broken hip from forced births and the list went on.
Monika says that some of the cruelty was unbelievable, one elephant was blind because its owner had shot it’s eyes out with a slingshot because it wouldn’t work, another from a circus was trained to stand up on its front legs the trainers had used stun guns to make it take its back legs off the ground.
Despite all of this the elephants seemed to know they were now in a safe place, they loved being bathed each morning, Monika and Ray would take a bucket to the river and give their elephants a good wetting down, following this the elephants would roll in the dust, their form of sunscreen.
The elephants were fed twice a day with fruit and vegetables, Monika and Ray would also make banana balls with mashed up bananas and grains, these were a particular favourite of the elephants who had lost their teeth.
Monika says the elephants are well cared for, the park had arranged for mahouts for each animal, they had come from Burma with their families who found the standard of living in Thailand much higher than Burma.
One of the real highlights for Monika and Ray was a camp-out in the jungle to let the elephants run free.
They would take between two and three elephants out into the jungle and set up camp, the elephants could roam free and they loved it, circling a big distance around the camp.
At night as they lay in their tent, Monika and Ray could hear the elephants moving around them, not being able to sleep they got up to see what the elephants were doing, and there they were in the moonlight just moving about enjoying their freedom.
It wasn’t all play, there was some hard work to be done, one day they were put on the back of a truck and sent out to a corn field, issued with machetes, off they went with big baskets to harvest the corn, filling the truck for the elephants next meal.
Soon the week had come to an end. Monika did not want to leave, she says you become very attached to these big wonderful beasts, but it was time to move on.
On the holiday side of their visit Monika and Ray stayed for a week in Phuket a great place to just relax.
One night as they enjoyed a cocktail on the beach under a stunning sunset Ray proposed to Monika, it was the perfect setting, of course she said yes and now the engaged couple are planning to return to Thailand to spend some more time as volunteers with their wonderful elephants.
Until next time,
If you would like to know more about how to volunteer you can contact the Elephant Nature Park at www.elephantnaturefoundation.org