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October 9, 2013

The Ride of a Lifetime

Tom McLaughlin

Lampang, Thailand – Many of you who read my tirade last week about the animal cruelty in Thailand and who also follow me on Facebook know Suriani, Dzul and I went on an elephant ride. I realize this is a contradiction, but let me explain.


The Elephant Conservancy is located in Lampang, Thailand, about an hour from Chiang Mai; and; unless you have a deep interest in Buddhism, it is the only reason to visit Chiang Mai. The Brit who works with the orangutan rehab center in Kuching recommended the place to us.


We arrived by rented car and were stunned by the very low admission price of about 30 cents for children and 60 cents for adults. We walked to the “staging area” where I saw about 10 elephants with seats strapped to the top. “What the hell? What kind of conservation outfit is this?” I asked myself.


Meanwhile, about 50 school children dressed in red uniforms with a harried teacher trying to keep track of everyone arrived. They were all seated on benches.


From the left another group of elephants came along and formed a line in front of the children. Then their trunks poked the kids with delightful squeals of surprise and glee. The poor teacher barely kept control of the excited children.


The elephants with their handlers on top guided them down to the river for their bath. The children with Suriani, Dzul and me in tow followed and lined the river bank. We watched as the elephant men (for lack of better name) washed and scrubbed their charges. They all emerged and walked trunk-to-tail to the arena.


During the show that followed, they demonstrated how they used to carry logs in the forest and drag logs with chains. They also kicked a ball around, picked up empty soda bottles and put it in the rubbish bin and played music. This all delighted the children.


The next show was the elephants painting a picture. I always wondered about that. Paint brushes were put in their trunks and they seemed to magically paint landscape pictures with green trees and a bright yellow sun; very simple but much better than I could do.


Intrigued, I walked down to the fence and noticed the optical illusion. The handlers were guiding the trunk by the “elbow” in their trunk painting it for them. But, from the stands, it actually looked like it was an original elephant work of art. The paintings were displayed on easels and sold immediately for $50 each.


The elephants, like everyone else need exercise and stimulation. They would soon become idiots standing around eating all day. The elephant rides help with this. My two year old son Dzul, my wife and I climbed aboard for the 30 minute safari. We walked through a river, up a hill, around an orchard, down a hill and back to the loading dock. Suriani and I were all smiles having a fantastic time rocking and swaying on the giants back. Dzul fell asleep.


Following the ride we walked over to the veterinary hospital. One was being treated for a foot injury suffered by an unexploded land mine while another had an eye injury. Several other were beyond our sight.


Connected on the other side of the large barn structure is the nursery. Three moms had just given birth and the little ones were adjusting to their new environment. All would join the herd.


Suriani and I enjoyed our visit and Dzul said for a few days afterwards he wanted to see the elephants.


…Life is good. . . . .


The Elephant Conservancy is under Royal Patronage of HM King Bhumibol.


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