Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Woodys Elephant Camp, Chiang Mai

The day after Doi Suthep, Joe and I decided to splash out on a day of Mahout training!! *

We went to Woodys Elephant Camp, and the day included some basic mahout training, elephant riding, feeding, washing, and ended with a swim (with the elephant's).

I know a trip like this can be a contentious issue; it was actually an inability to adequately talk about this very experience that contributed to the fact that I stopped blogging.**

Thankfully I am pleased to be able to say that for the most part we had a very positive experience at Woodys, and felt that the elephant's were treated with care and respect by their trainers. We were very anxious that we would see unhappy, exploited animals, but thankfully we did not find this to be the case at Woodys.

The day started with a lesson on the history of elephant-human relations in the area; the elephants were originally engaged in the logging industry, but when that became more mechanised the elephants found themselves forced to fend for themselves. There were also, the Mahout said, conflicts between the elephants and locals, as the elephants roamed free across the lands, destroying everything in their path; homes, crops, livelihoods.

The Mahout explained the tools used to control the elephants. To this day I sill haven't worked out how I feel about them. On the one hand, quite obviously, they look cruel, and unnecessary. On the other hand, an elephant is a huge, thick skinned animal, with a mind of its own, and having been on the other side of a cow that didn't want to go in the direction we wanted it too, I can appreciate that you might want to be armed with something a little more than a stick.

And of course, who am I to come over and force my western ideals on them, life is different out there, and they live by a different set of rules than we do..

I think my upbringing on the farm has given me a different perspective on the world to many of my contemporaries.. (I'm not saying this is necessarily a good thing, I'm jus sayin. That's pretty much all this post is. A recap of our day, sandwiched in among some conclusionless moral wanderings...)

We were then taught the basic vocabulary needed to train(?) an elephant -HOW = stop, BYEE = forward, BOW = slow-  and were introduced to our newest friends.


We began slow, feeling the elephants bananas/generally trying to avoid being slobbered on (for those of you who have experience of cows, I can safely say that elephants are much much much more slobbery! Hence the suuuper sexy elephant clothes!). We then practiced getting on and off the elephant - no mean feat when you're as vertically challenged as I am! Finally we headed off into the mountains, the elephants stopping to graze at every opportunity!

 elephant watching 

The day ended with a quick wash - of  the elephants, not us! At which point our elephant decided he much preferred Joe to me, and abandoned me standing alone, waist deep in a pool of mucky water, whilst everyone else was carried out of the pond by their elephants!

We just had time for a swim with the elephants, before a very basic shower, and the mini bus back to the city.

It was a strange, conflicting, surreal day, but whatever I might read or think about the elephant tourism in Asia, nothing will ever take away the feel of meeting and getting to know -however briefly- a real life, huge, grey elephant. If I would have told my seven year old self that one day I would do that, I would think I was totally mad.

Much Love,

*elephant trainer training 

** That and that fact that blogging on a tablet is a total faff!

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