On Sunday morning we got the full tour of the park. We started with the “elephant kitchen.” In it the 150-200 kg (330-440 lbs) of food each elephant needs is prepared for it. Since all of the elephants who live in the park, live there because they can’t make it in the wild, a lot of them have special diets. You can see the map for what “enrichments” they need here:
The older elephants’ teeth are ground down, so they can’t chew their food properly. Often otherwise healthy old elephants end up starving to death because they can’t grind their food to get the nutrients out of it. There’s no such thing as elephant dentures (yet), so the park cooks rice, mixes it with salt, sugar and other, forms it into balls and wraps it in leaves so they can get everything they need.
As if that wasn’t enough of a job, Lek believes it’s important for both the elephants and the environment that the food be grown organically. To make sure that this happens, she contracts with local farmers to grow organic produce for the elephants. There is a ton of it…
Unfortunately, everything she buys can’t be organic, so the things that aren’t, she washes thoroughly.
I may’ve mentioned it earlier, but the Elephant Nature park also takes in other injured animals. There are something like 250 cats and even more dogs, mostly taken in two years ago during the floods in Bangkok. There’s even a special area for dogs who have lost or damaged their back legs, where they can use their front legs to pull themselves, so they can still eat and play. There are a couple of other animals as well.
Besides the animals, Lek has built a village for the mahouts and their families, most of whom are Burmese refugees. They each have their own huts, just as they would if they lived in a village anywhere else. She employs the mahouts wives at the park, and has made an arrangement with the local teachers so that all of the children can go to school. (See what I mean about not sleeping?! She’s thought of everything!)
Saying goodbye to our incredible leaders was so hard. By this point, we volunteers had named ourselves the Freedom Family. Even though we had to say goodbye to Joe and Yo, at the park, the rest of the family decided to meet back up in Chiang Mai that night for dinner, after all of us had time to take much needed showers.
The restaurant was beautiful, the nicest one I’ve been in on my trip. Unfortunately, I must’ve eaten something for lunch that didn’t agree with me and was feeling too awful that night to eat. I had a bowl of boiled rice and ginger soup, and stared at everyone else’s dishes enviously.
It was really hard to say goodbye again, at the end of the night, but most people were leaving Chiang Mai the next morning but family is for life. 🙂