Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chang Mai Elephant Camp

One of the highlights of our trip was the elephant camp we visited near Chang Mai.
The Indian Elephant is native to Thailand and about 4000 live in the wild. There are also about 2000 in elephant camps like this one. Elephants are fascinating. They live for over 100 years and generally die with their 6th set of teeth fall out and they can't eat anymore. They consume 500 pounds of food and 60 gallons of water a day. They are eating 16 hours a day and only sleep 4.
When we arrived we got to witness them getting their baths. It was comical and here is a video of the ordeal.
We could also tell right away that the elephants were really happy and all had their own personalities. They playfully took food out of our hands and gave us "hugs."
Many of the elephants were trained to do tricks. Interestingly, the trainers could predict which elephant would be the smartest by the length of their lower lip. The longer the lower lip, the smarter the elephant.

Their tricks ranged from soccer (click here for a video) to playing harmonicas (video) to painting, to doing a hat trick (video). I was astonished at their ability to paint.

We had the pleasure of taking a 1 hour elephant ride. They were very slow while carrying us and frequently got distracted by some food or water and would venture off the trail to feed their craving.

The trainers would sit right on the elephant's head but the elephant didn't seem to mind. It was encouraging to see how happy the elephants all were. Clearly they were well taken care of. The camp supposedly lets them run free most of the day and lets them go free for good when they turn about 40.

At the end of the visit we walked over to the nursery where there were 3 baby elephants. Each had a trainer watching the mother/child duo. When we walked up the trainer smacked the baby in the head and Erin was quite offended. Why would you hit a baby elephant? She soon found out. As we watched the baby we could tell it had a very naughty personality. It would poke at its mother, at people, and at the baby elephant next to it. It got close to Erin at one point and Erin thought they were friends...until the baby elephant realized Erin didn't have any food so it reared back and head-butted Erin about 10 feet backwards. Below is a picture about 2 seconds before the head-butt, for which it was promptly smacked (and now we know why).


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