Photo Essay: Elephant Nature Park / by Heather


The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand is an extraordinary sanctuary that takes in abused domesticated Asian elephants and gives them the chance for a new life of care and family. If you don't already know the context of elephant domestication in Thailand, you can read my article, How to Break an Elephant.

I spent a week volunteering at ENP and it was without a doubt, the most incredible experience of my two-month trip around South East Asia. If you ever find yourself in Thailand, this is the way to see elephants who are truly happy and free from any kind of exploitation. I recommend reading How to Mend an Elephant for the full story of my time at the park and more pictures.  The following images are supplementary to that post.



The park revolves around a main platform where volunteers and visitors can feed elephants that wander by. Ele snacks include a wide variety of chopped fruits that are handed to the elephant by placing the fruit against her trunk, where it is quickly shoved in her waiting mouth. Here, mahouts lead a family group to the platform.


The world would be a sadder place without elephant butts.


Mahouts, traditional elephant caretakers,  tend to have a bad reputation in modern-day Thailand, thanks to the high rate of abusive people amoung their ranks. But they used to be widely respected and renown for their deep connections with their wards. At Elephant Nature Park, the only form of discipline allowed in the park is positive reinforcement, and it is easy to observe that bond once again between elephants and the local mahouts employed there. In these pictures, a young elephant named Faa Mai interacts with her mahout, even playing a game of peek-a-boo around a tree.

The park is also home to hundreds of rescued dogs, including Steel. Steel was a stray in southern Thailand, where three years ago, she was hit by a motorbike. This paralyzed her below the stomach and took off her right leg below the knee. Suffering from intense trauma, massive blood loss, and infection, she received no medical attention and locals thought she would die. But somehow she made it through and continued to drag herself through the streets on her front legs, ripping the skin off her stomach while doing so. The locals were amazed at her resilience and tried to help her by putting her in a small cage on the side of road. They brought her a little food and water everyday, but never cleaned the cage. She was in the cage for two years before an expat saw her and contacted ENP to rescue her.

Today, she has a custom built enclosure with tile floors that are perfect for her to scoot around on. ENP also got her a doggy wheelchair so she can really get going on walks. Steel is one of the sweetest dogs at the park and loves humans, despite the pain she's been through in the past. She shares her enclosure with two other friendly dogs, but if she sees you petting one of them, she'll scoot over at amazing speeds to get pets of her own.

Steel and one of her friends

 Tummy pets please!

One of the other guest favourites at the park is Navann, a male baby elephant born in the fall of 2012. 

His mother, Sri Prae, stepped on a landmine when she worked in the logging industry and was crippled, though she still manages to get around fairly well. The purple coloring is medicinal ointment.

In addition to his mother, Navann is also watched over by another female, a nanny elephant. The three are inseparable.

Of course after a good mud bath, a real bath in the river is much needed.

And don't even try to hide your post-bath banana treats.

Or else you might end up with a sightly conspicuous ele kiss.

Which of course leads to giggles. And a happy elephant.