Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chiang Mai - Elephant Camp

While Riley and I were trapsing around Taipei, Allie was being charmed by elephants in Chiang Mai.

A group of girls from school flew to northern Thailand for a week of volunteering at an elephant reserve... rice paddies en route.

The eco-tourism camp welcomes individuals & groups wanting to learn more about elephants and how to help the endangered species. 

Room to roam, the reserve provides a safe range and medical care for formerly abused elephants. They now have 33 females, 4 males, and 2 babies.

Each elephant has own mahout to care for it... and keep it out of trouble. Hope, a male, wears a bell to help make his mischieveous presence known.

The reserve also houses some 60+ dogs, 40+ cats, herds of cattle, water buffalo and 10 pigs. The dogs help corral elephants and they bark when elephants stray. The animals are guests that needn't worry about ever becoming dinner... the camp is vegetarian.

The camp provides housing for volunteers.

Basic with no air-con, mosquito nets were a must as malaria and dengue fever still persist. One night, Allie awoke to rustling noise that wouldn't stop. She shined a flashlight...a 12-inch (?) long RAT had found her Mama noodles (crunchy, ramen-like). It scurried out through the 2-inch gap at bottom of room's door. 

Ready to work

Shoveling elephant stuff into fast moving river. She swam with the elephants near this same spot, but assured me the current was strong enough to carry away all the waste. Ha, fingers crossed.

One day they unloaded 3,028+ pumpkins (they counted) for the elephants' kitchen. "The week was exhausting!"

Pumpkins and melons are all washed to rid of pesticides before giving to elephants.

Elephants' pantry. They eat 18 hours a day, mostly grazing, but also fruit and treats from the kitchen. Allie made heaps of banana balls with spoiling banana, corn and oats... elephants love them.

The elephants were like kids, and eat sweet watermelon and banana first. Only after that's all gone will they eat the pumpkin and cucumbers. They toss veggies to ground if fruit is still around.

Lots of baths

Eddie Machetti is a puppy who was viciously sliced across the back with a knife. He was half dead when he came to the camp, but is now fine and (usually) full of sweet, puppy life.

Planting pumpkins and melons, with bamboo tools

Khun Lek began the reserve a decade ago. She has been widely recongnized for her work, "2001 Hero of the Planet" by Ford Foundation, "2005 Hero of Asia" by Time Magazine, and features on National Geo, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and BBC.

Found several interesting bugs during the week.

Le grande escargot

One afternoon they participated in a blessing of the trees. Monks blessed cloths that the girls tied around nearby trees. If cloaked trees are cut down, it is believed bad luck will follow the life of the tree chopper.

Another day they taught English songs to local school kids..."Head, shoulders, knees and toes"

They loved braiding her long blonde hair.

Allie loved sweetheart Khun B, her photographer & friend all week

On her last night when I talked to her, she said they had 4 hours of free time that day. I asked what she did. "Erin & I just hung out with the elephants, thought about things. I'm gonna miss them." 

I'm grateful for yet another grand adventure for this girl.