Five of our group spend a morning at the BMP elephant care centre, near Chang Mai. We arrive just before banana breakfast time for the 4 gorgeous residents; Full Moon, who is 20 and 11 months pregnant, Tip whose 6, Mali, the naughty one who is 5 and Kaew Kalong who is only 3. All the elephants here have been ‘re-homed’ and the centre pays their owners rent so the elephants can stay at there. These elephants were previously working in the elephant entertainment industry either as a circus animal or in the elephant riding camps. This has been the fate of most of the domesticated elephants of Thailand, of which there are around 3,000 after they were no longer needed for transportation or to work in the farms and villages. The conditions for elephants in the riding centres are not good and the BMP care centre is trying to provide an alternative which allows tourists to observe these amazing animals in their natural habitat and to learn how to care for them. We change into our elephant care tops and trousers and walk through the camp to meet them. We are equipped with our banana bags which are full to the brim with baby bananas. We have been warned……elephants LOVE bananas. We need to be quick and have one ready in each hand. ‘Don’t bend down to pick any you’ve dropped’ and ‘raise both hands when you are done’, otherwise they will keep coming, looking for more! They are very adept at plucking the bananas from our hands with their trunks, before squishing a few at a time into their mouths.
After the banana feast is over, its bamboo for desert. The wrap this round their trunks to break the shoots into smaller pieces. Things are a bit calmer now there are no bananas left and we can move in closer for a pat and a hug. Two of them have learned to give a hug with their trunks and one of the smaller ones, Tip, gives me several big suction kisses with the end of her trunk. With those big brown eyes, long eyelashes, and comical expressions on their faces, they just melt my heart. It is a truly amazing experience to be so close to these animals.
Afterwards we walk alongside them as they walk along the river bank, pulling on roots and leaves to eat and spraying themselves with dirt and dust to protect their skins from insects and the heat. We end up at a small pool where their trainer’s lead them in. With our costumes on we join them in the pool and have some fun, splashing water all over them…..such a great way for an elephant to cool down in the heat. Full moon never misses a trick to spray us all back with water from her trunk.
Later as I look back on the photos, I can’t help myself smiling and thinking how privileged we’ve been to spend the morning with these very cute and truly majestic animals. It’s a morning I will always remember.