Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fantastic Trip - Part II

Before I begin, in the (most unlikely) event that anyone was wondering.... yesterday's shopping expedition to locate toilet paper was a huge success and we now have 48+ rolls of toilet paper in our cupboards!  Just in case.

Back to recounting Day 2 of our trip to Chiang Rai.  

When I made our booking at the Anantara Resort, I was unaware of its significant role in the rescue and rehabilitation of Asian Elephants in Thailand.  Upon our arrival, we learned that Anantara Resort is home to the northern extension of the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre and also to The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.  The Centre was established by the Royal Thai Government to act as a central body for the conservation of elephants (domestic and wild) and the persons and communities that depend on them for their livelihood.  The Foundation aims to give and promote ethical work for those elephants and to provide a safe sustainable income for the elephants, their mahouts and their families. 

In Thailand, raising and training elephants is traditionally passed down in families from generation to generation. A mahout is the person (typically male) who trains and drives the elephant.  Mahouts are given an elephant from their family at a very young age and stay with that elephant for life.  95% of Thailand's elephants are domesticated and working elephants that are privately owned.  Before logging was banned in Thailand, elephants were used for logging, hauling and other services in the mountains. However, as Thailand's forests were destroyed and logging banned,  there was a decline in the work that was traditionally done by elephants.  As you might imagine, keeping an elephant is very expensive.   With the lack of work for them and in order to make a living, the elephants are now forced to beg on city streets.  I have seen, right outside the gates of Nichada, a mahout who charges tourists for the chance to feed bananas and bits of sugarcane to his elephant.  He also charges tourists if they want to take a photo with or of the elephant.  These types of activities are illegal but, if arrested, the mahout and his elephant just move on to another part of the city or a different town until they are arrested there and forced to move on again.  The cycle never ends.  The Foundation rescues those elephants (and also any that are in distress or being abused) and brings the elephant, the mahout and his family to Anantara for rehabilitation, education and the opportunity to earn a legitimate income.  

With both the Centre and the Foundation being located on the resort's grounds, you would expect there to be some elephants around... and you would be absolutely correct!   I found a few good trails around the resort and went for a run before breakfast.  The trails went along the MeKong river before going into the jungle so I was able to catch sight of several elephants in the grasslands and watch their mahouts bring them pineapple leaves, bananas and sugarcane for breakfast.   

In addition to having the elephant join us for breakfast on our second day, 
We were able to go to the elephant camp and observe the mahouts working with their elephants.  The mahouts use about 70 commands with their elephants and the relationship between them is amazing.  One of the mahouts has been with his elephant since he was a little boy.  With the mahout's command, the elephants would trumpet to us a "good morning" or lift their trunks high in the air and bow their heads for "thank you".  
In the photo below, Christopher is feeding this baby elephant (18 months old) a piece of sugar cane.  This little guy was so cute! He "played" by using his trunk to toss a rag on his head and then he would try and shake it off.  As long as we kept laughing at him, he kept doing it.
After a while, he got bored with the bananas and sugar cane we were feeding him and decided to go to mom for a drink.
And then it was nap time!  He went down just as you would expect - not very gracefully!  And he snored.  Loudly.
 We moved on to visit the other elephants.
The Foundation is currently housing 30 elephants and their mahout families, the most they have ever had.  The Foundation also has a separate camp for the nine "babies" that are on-site.  These "babies" are really just younger elephants that were weaned and separated from their mothers before being rescued by the Foundation.  

Most of the mahouts and their families live in  one of the two traditional "mahout villages" on-site. Some mahouts live in villages nearby but spend the entire day with their elephant. The elephants are brought in from the jungle at about 7 am, and then fed and exercised in the camp until about 2 pm.  At 2 pm, the mahouts take their elephants in small groups down to the pond for a bath. What a riot that was to watch!

Here are some of the mahouts and their elephants going down to the pond.
I had to add the photo below.  This mahout went to get his hat from his car in the parking lot and the elephant followed right behind and stood there and waited for him. Just like the dogs do with me at home!  
Some of the guests from the hotel went into the pond with the first group of elephants and mahouts.
The elephant in the photo below was quite a character.  He quickly entered the water and then began spraying his poor rider almost immediately!  The more we laughed (from the dry shoreline), the more he sprayed.
The first group of elephants are refreshed from their swim and off to the jungle for the night while a new group arrives.
This younger elephant in the photo below was just SO cheeky!  She tried and tried to spray us but couldn't get it quite right.  
After failing to spray us, she started to harass her friend for entertainment!  The mahout had his hands full keeping her in line.
I think she is still plotting to try and spray us!
Finished with their swim and off to the jungle. 
The elephants are kept overnight in the jungle from late afternoon.  They go out after their afternoon bath and stay there until the mahouts collect them the next morning. Elephants only sleep about 4 hours a night (standing up) and the rest of the time they spend eating. An adult elephant will consume about 250 kilograms (over 550 lbs) of food a day. We met a veterinary student from Australia who was volunteering at the camp and she told us that elephants will spend about 17 hours a day eating.  And, they poop out about 60% of what they eat. Speaking of that, the kids were very keen to ride the elephants into the pond until they saw the "floaters".
After the elephants left, we hiked up to the top of the mountain that the hotel was built on.  The view was spectacular!  The photo below is looking over the Mekong river to Laos with Myanmar off to the left.  
Caitlynne and Christopher in front of the spirit house at the top of the mountain.
Food left for the spirits.  I can't believe someone climbs this mountain every day to leave food.
Below are a few random photos from around the hotel.  Instead of floral arrangements, these "aqua arrangements" are displayed throughout the hotel.
Water lilies in the water garden in the reception area.
A mosaic mural at the entrance to the hotel.  
Whew!  My hands are exhausted from all of this typing and it is almost time to make dinner!  I will be back tomorrow with a recap of our 3rd day which included crossing over the borders to Myanmar and Laos.

I hope everyone remembered to set their clocks back last night!

1 comment:

Chic Coastal Living said...

Glad to know that you are all okay..