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Pattaya Daily News

08 February 2010 :: 16:02:10 pm 12769

The Lucky Ones: Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Lek (meaning; tiny) a Thai girl, was given an elephant at the age of five years old, in return for the help that her Gran Father gave to the Karen head tribesman in saving his son’s life. She loved the elephant named Golden One and spent every minute possible with her. The rapport between the two was magical and as Lek grew older, so she managed to coax Golden One into helping with small jobs such as carrying sacks of rice or vegetables from the fields to the village.
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In many parts of Thailand the elephants are subjected to ‘Phajaan’ a training ritual where by the animals are confined to small cages, poked with sharpened wooden spikes and beaten to break their spirit. The Mahouts who ride them prod them with a sharpened steel hook, similar to that of a pick and continuously whip them into submission. Lek however, won the heart of Golden One simply through kindness and rewards.


Elephants were once revered as religious and cultural icons, but all that is now seemingly lost in modern Thailand. A century ago there were once over 100,000 elephants, now that number is not much more than 5000, this includes those in captivity working in the tourist industry. Thai law considers them as livestock rather than wild animals, so they are not covered in Thai conservation rules. As such, owners are allowed to do as they wish with them and so abuse so often occurs, going unpunished. For example, an elephant was burned to death by its drunken owner, who was never charged for the incident.

Lek’s first encounter with elephant cruelty was seeing elephants being used for commercial logging. What she saw shocked her. Many of the animals wore heavy wooden harnesses around their necks which had rubbed them raw by the hauling chains. She saw them being beaten, whipped and abused, but there was nothing she could do to help them.

After the end of her education, Lek opened a travel agency, still remembering the abuse she had witnessed. Sometimes the abuse happened on her own doorstep as baby elephants were taken round Chang Mai in order to beg from the tourists. She witnessed one being prodded in its rear with a stick and burned with scalding hot coffee. Lek had been successful in drawing attention to the plight of the elephant abuse, but wanted to help those that were old, sick and maimed as most of these were simply shot or abandoned. She needed a place for them to roam safely till the end of their lives. Eventually she was given permission to use a government forest as a sanctuary, but this was only temporary.

She sold her house, car and everything she owned and used the profits from her travel agency for the upkeep of these elephants she had rescued. To raise more funds, she attracted visitors with a genuine interest in elephants to witness the animals roaming in a natural setting. In 1996, with help from other elephant and wildlife charities, she opened a not for profit Elephant Nature Park.

The elephants were given a permanent home in 2003 when a US wildlife charity donated a 16 hectare site located 56 kilometres north of Chang Mai.


One of Lek’s charges was a mother and her baby. The mother had been worked so hard she became so thin that when her calf was born it could not stand it was so weak and mother could not produce enough milk to feed him.

Patty Brown

Photo : Internet   Category : Society

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