There was that moment of panic…

thai_elephantThere was that moment of panic when the man and his baby elephant came strolling towards our table. ‘What should I do? Should I buy a Bag of food and feed the poor pachyderm? Will he go hungry or have to walk even longer today if I don’t? Or will my feeding him perpetuate the cycle?’; My mind and heart were battling it out. Months later, I discovered a place they could both agree on.

The National Elephant Institute (formerly the Thai Elephant Conservation Center) was founded in 1991 by the Forest Industry Organization and has since provided care for more than one hundred elephants as well as jobs and housing for mahouts and their families who were displaced after the ban on logging in 1989.

The Elephant Hospital at the institute currently cares for 15 elephants. I and my companions had the great fortune of receiving a tour of the hospital by a resident volunteer, Janique von Kanel. Originally from Switzerland, Janique has been living at the Elephant Hospital for over a year and is founder of The Elephant Hospital Society, a non-profit organization. Janique’s other passion is working with children who have leprosy in India. Can we call her ‘saint’ yet?

Janique introduced us to Babar, a baby elephant suffering from paralysis in his hind legs and back due to a fall. The ‘little’ guy hangs from a sling during the day and sleeps with a volunteer on a bed of stuffed burlap sacks at night. His mother comes to the hospital to feed him and he receives acupuncture treatment.

We also met Councy, a 45-year-old female elephant severely injured by a land mine while being used for illegal logging activities near the Burmese border.

True animal lovers can experience genuine mahout training, complete with stylish baggy pants. The institute offers programs ranging from 3 to 30 days and starting at 4,000 Baht.

Entry to the institute and hospital is free. Nominal fees are charged For elephant rides and show tickets. See how elephant dung paper is made and purchase some cards, paper or photo frames. I quite enjoyed ending my letters with, ‘Guess what you are holding…’

The National Elephant Institute:

Highway Chiang Mai-Lampang km 26-28, Amphor Hang Chat, Lampang 52000.

Elephant Hospital Society: elephanthospitalsociety@hotmail.com  

Events and activities, Elephant Donation Project:

www.changthai.com

Elephant dung paper:

www.elephantdungpaper.com