Tuesday, 17-02-2015. Day 181.
Baby Elephant Day Care.
The girls were interested in hanging out with some elephants while we were in Thailand. Our first choice was to visit the Elephant Nature Park, an organization that rescues maltreated elephants and cares for them in a safe environment, but their slots fill up way in advance. So instead, we chose Ran-Tong Elephant Centre, which has a very similar mission: saving and rescuing the elephants, giving them a better life and future.
We were signed up for the afternoon half-day elephant day care program. We walked to a hostel near the Chiang Mai gate and then took an hour-long van ride (this one was much more comfortable than our last van ride) to where the elephants were kept.
The elephants can be quite dirty, so after we put on some baggy (traditional?) clothes to keep our own clothes clean, we walked down to an open field where we met the two baby elephants we'd be caring for. They were named something like Pudoi and Teechee. That's almost certainly inaccurate, but it'll do for our purposes here.
Our two new friends arrived with a trumpeting and after the briefest of introductions, we were given bananas to feed to them. They grabbed the fruit, peel and all, greedily with their trunks and shoveled them into their mouths. They were gentle beasts who loved people, mainly because people meant they got to eat a lot of bananas.
The elephants did some tricks, like twirling a hula hoop on their trunks and saying thank you. They even did a little dance when the mahout (elephant trainer) prompted them with a song. Every thing they did was by voice command, they were never hit, beaten, or tied up with chains. They did wear a rope collar, but that was to keep them from wandering out of the park when people weren't around. There are a few elephant parks in the area, and there's big business in kidnapping elephants—so keeping them in the park is important.
We were told that elephants eat up to 10% of their body weight each day, and while these two were not full grown, that still meant they ate something like 150 kilos of food. After a lot (and I mean a lot) of bananas, one of the elephants went down to the river for a drink. Elephants can also drink close to 200 liters of water each day.
As long as we were near the river, why not go for a bath? So the girls helped to bathe the two elephants in the river. Just let me say that if you're going to bathe an elephant, you're going to get wet.
As soon as they were bathed, they climbed back up onto dry land and tossed dirt over their backs. The dirt helps to keep parasites at bay.
Then it was time for more food. As much as elephants like bananas, they like sugarcane even more. One of the elephants would keep grabbing the sugarcane, even though he was holding two or three sticks of it in his trunk already.
It was pretty amazing how much fine motor control they had over their trunks.
We spent some more time feeding the elephants. At one point they asked if we wanted to ride them, but the girls said no. After doing some research, they decided that riding elephants was not good for the elephants and so not something they wanted to do.
At one point, when the mahouts were looking over one elephant for parasites, the other elephant wandered off into the nearby hut and grabbed a whole bunch of bananas. Before anyone noticed, he had shoved the whole thing into his mouth.
After it was all over, much to our surprise, we got to eat. The people running the park fed us some khao soi, which is a northern Thai dish with crispy egg noodles in a spicy soup. We liked it a lot. Then we got back into the van and went back to Chiang Mai.
We asked to be dropped at the Chiang Mai gate, where we met up with Samantha (who'd enjoyed a day of Thai massage) and we discovered the best burgers in all of Asia.