Volunteering at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) was certainly an eye-opening and emotional experience but one of my highlights in South East Asia. You will learn so much about animal rights and the horror of the elephant tourism trade that is unfortunately still so real today in Thailand. I highly recommend anyone interested in helping elephants in Thailand to visit this park and learn about the realities that this trade brings to so many injured, old and sick elephants every day.
Elephants are one of the top “attractions” that people want to experience when they go to Asia however it is so important to do your research and choose wisely how and where you go to see them in Thailand. Many parks still engage in nonethical behavior which causes harm and abuse to elephants. Although people are becoming more conscious of the mistreatment of elephants in Asia, many are still unaware of how unethical these activities are. Activities such as elephant riding, painting, and even bathing are cruel and unnatural. Thinking back on traveling through Asia, I cannot count how many times I saw these activities being advertised. Many parks are falsely advertised as being ethical but engage in harmful activities.
How are these tourism activities harmful?
The number one goal for elephant owners is to make money and unfortunately, this industry continues because tourists visiting Thailand are willing to pay. We need to remember that elephants are wild, massive animals and they are not naturally calm around humans so they need to be trained. The training involves shackling the elephant with chains around the ankles and beating it until it’s spirit is broken. The animal will eventually give in to the commands of its owner to perform and entertain for anyone willing to pay. If you visit ENP, you will quickly notice that a lot of the elephants carry scars and broken limbs from years of being tortured by their owners and used against their own will.
How ENP differs from other parks?
If you get the chance to go to ENP, located an hour and a half north of Chiang Mai you will not be able to touch, bathe, ride or watch elephants perform circus acts. Your visit will instead help these elephants recover from years of being mistreated in this trade. The park was set up as a sanctuary and place of retirement to take in sick and old elephants and aims to rehabilitate elephants back to health using only the most ethically practices. It offers elephants a new lease of life in the most natural surroundings with as much freedom as possible.
What does a day as an ENP volunteer look like?
Each day you will help out in the maintenance of these animals which involves approximately three to four hours of work with the help of the local staff. Tasks include shoveling elephant poo out of shelters, feeding the elephants, preparing elephant food in the kitchen and building a fire break. Throughout each day you will be allowed to help out with the dog and cat shelters also located in the park if you wish. Included in the fee to participate are all of your meals (which are all vegan and delicious) and your accommodation shared with 2 or 3 other volunteers.
Why should you volunteer at ENP?
– It is one of the only parks you should support in Asia given its efforts to provide a safe place for elephants to rehabilitate after spending the majority of their lives in shackles.
– The park has zero tolerance for nonethical behavior towards animals and by the end of your time there you won’t either.
– It will give you an insight into how much hard labor and hours go into minding these elephants.
– The fee you pay to take part in volunteer goes to the much-needed care of the animals, running, and maintenance of the park and the wonderful staff who look after these creatures.
– It will be one of the most rewarding experiences you have while traveling in Asia.
– You will learn so much from the local people dedicating their lives to this park and about the elephant tourism trade and animal rights.
– ENP not only treats sick elephants but also has also taken in hundreds of abandoned dogs, cats and monkeys so during your week of volunteering you can offer your help to these shelters also.
Have I convinced you to volunteer yet?
If so, here is the ENP website where you can check out all of there volunteer options as well as day trips. I chose to participate in the week-long volunteer programme. To book, you can check available dates and prices for this here.
If you cannot make it all the way to Thailand to ENP but would like to help out, here is a list of other ways you can do so from sponsoring an animal to buying merchandise from the ENP shop.