There is something about an elephant. These large, imposing creatures with sad eyes seemingly asking for help, tug at my heart every time I have the pleasure of gazing into those eyes.
Why I feel drawn to elephants may go back to my childhood when a circus came to our town when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I was invited to visit and sit up on top of one the elephants. I can still recall the course, hairy skin, how tall it was and of course those eyes. Sadly I now know that the circus elephant was likely mistreated as are so many elephants.
The Asian elephants in Thailand have historically been mistreated. They have been used for hundreds of years by royalty for armies and for status. The logging industry, in Thailand specifically teak, was also responsible for the mistreatment of thousands of elephants.
When the teak logging industry was banned in 1989 the elephants were no longer needed, leaving many to be taken by the tourist industry where the mistreatment continued.
With the forests so depleted there was no way the elephants could be released into the wild and therein lay the problem. How could the elephants be saved and cared for?
There have been many rescue parks set up in Thailand. Most of them are reputable, and work hard for the elephants, along with providing programs for tourists.
Patara Elephant Farm is a rescue and breeding facility founded in 2001 with an excellent education and Elephant Caregiver for a Day program which helps to raise money to care for their rescues and new born elephants.
The programs that Patara offer are unique in that you are paired one on one with your own elephant for the day. Your day starts with an interesting educational talk where you learn all about how to care for, how to check for signs of good health, what to watch for that may indicate problems for your elephant.
There are almost always baby elephants at Patara due to the fact that they are a breeding facility. With medical care given with the support of Chiang Mai University they have had a very successful program with an average of 3 babies born each year, one year they had 5 newborn elephants join the herd.
The day at Patara includes the learning component, a wonderful jungle hike, a lunch prepared by the local Karin Tribe women, served by the river.
If you choose to you can swim with your elephant as a wonderful wrap up to your day.
The experience is heartwarming, interesting and a little bit sad at the same time, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
I have had the opportunity to visit Patara 3 times, and twice had the same elephant. I like to think she remembered me.