I never really thought that elephant shows could make me feel sad. I am not the animal rights type, and not even one of those animal lovers, but those cute shows at an elephant park in the province of Chiang Mai actually made me feel down, probably thanks to another elephant park and my friend who introduced it to me.
Last June, my Finnish friend Arttu visited my country. Before he actually arrived, he told me that he wanted to see elephants, and sent me a link to an elephant park. Naturally, I thought it was one of those parks which were very common in northern Thailand. After reading through the site, I realised I was wrong.
It was the site of Elephant Nature Foundation, who operated the Elephant Nature Park. The Park promoted itself as the sanctuary for elephants, providing a safe home for rescued elephants. They claimed to “allow people to see elephants as elephants should be seen”, with no hooks, chains, painting with their trunks, kicking a football, or whatsoever.
I admit that I was first struck with the 2500 THB fee for a full day visit, which I found out a bit later that I was exempted as a Thai national, but the visit struck me even more, with the elephants in the way I never really saw before. Before that, my experience with elephants included seeing them on streets in Bangkok and seeing them painting on TV. I probably also visited an elephant park once, but I could not really remember about it much. There, I saw elephants eating, roaming through the field, splashing the water, and putting the sand on themselves to cool down. All we did there were feeding them, washing them, watching them, and taking photographs of them. Riding an elephant could be an exotic experience, but be beside it was also wonderful.
One year of studying in Bangkok did not evoke my memory from the Nature Park. It is today, at another elephant park, that I actually felt that my short visit at the Nature Park one year ago really affected me. I could not enjoy seeing elephants on the show ground. The only I could really think was about how much conditioning had been put on those elephants before they could perform bowing, painting, kicking the balls, playing the darts, etc. I am not saying that the park abuse those elephants since I do not see the actual training. The park might be the best of its kind, with humane training and all. Nonetheless, I could not felt the pleasure any more.
Maybe I am too sensitive. Maybe Elephant Nature Foundation actually brainwash people. Maybe the elephant training is not that harsh. Maybe animals are actually meant to be used. I really don’t know.