Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Walking with elephants

A cheap local bus out of Lampang passes by the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre. It's a third class service, so an ancient bus with rust holes in the side panels, torn seats leaking foam, and the front door was tied open with a length of old rope. No seatbelts, of course.

I spent the first 5 minutes of the journey plotting my escape route and how I could best wedge myself in to prevent being thrown out if were unlucky enough to roll. Luckily, the shuddering old beast seemed incapable of going faster than 50kph.

Most visitors to the conservation centre come for the elephant show; a dozen animals and their handlers (known as Mahouts) demonstrate traditional elephant work (lifting huge logs) as well as elephant party tricks (hula-hooping and painting). The audiences clap appreciatively, and after the show line up to feed lengths of sugar cane to the animals.

I was more interested in the field hospital, where they provide care for injured, sick, or just old and abandoned elephants from all over Thailand.

At the end of my visit, I took a ride through the jungle on a bull called Sarai; it's a rather bumpy mode of transport, and you have to hang on like the blazes when he goes down a steep hill, to prevent sliding off. I loved it. Plus as all the proceeds go to support the hospital, you don't feel like you're exploiting these massive beasts.

They take photos of all the elephant rides to try and flog you the images. Normally this practice annoys me, but this time I bought a photo of Serai and myself to send to my mum as a present; the Centre presented it in a bright blue frame made from elephant dung paper.

I don't think I should tell mum what it's made from.

Thai elephant conservation centre

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