Stacey and I had the amazing experience of volunteering for 10 days at Safari Park Zoo – one of my favorite experiences in our 101 days in SE Asia. As such, this calls for multiple posts! I started off with an introduction telling you a little bit about the Safari Park Volunteer program (which you can read here) and today is the last post of the Safari Park Volunteer series highlighting one of my very favorite animals: Asian Elephants!
Safari Park is working on a short-term elephant program, but when I was there, I basically just got in as much time with the elephants as I could in between work.
Morning Elephant Feeding ⋙
I only got in on the morning feeding twice, but I went over and helped Ry and the mahouts by tossing the branches for the elephants into their enclosure, and gave them some water.
Elephant Enrichment ⋙
My friend Ry who works really closely with the animals has been doing everything he can to do some serious improvements for the quality of life for the elephants. One of these things is coming up with enrichment that he can do for the elephants. One day while we were finishing up lunch Ry asked if I could help him weave branches together to hold bananas for Tut, the male elephant at the zoo.
Spending Time with These Beauties – My Favorite
Elephant is Jim – So, All These Photos Are of Her ⋙
I went over to the elephants daily after lunch or on breaks just to spend some time loving on them. The three elephants at the zoo do unfortunately perform an elephant show, but there is constant brain-storming going on to eliminate the show and replace it with things like elephant paintings. Already they’re giving tourists the opportunity to prepare and feed the elephants sticky rice balls, bareback trek, bathe the elephants and make ice lollies. This is a great movement in the right direction for these animals!
I loved getting to feed these ladies rice balls. Jum is the elephant that’s tamest and therefore is the elephant that you can get closest to and the one you get to ride and bathe. However, Jim is my favorite. She has the most amazing free spirit about her and I love her beautiful markings. I just really connected with her so I always wanted to take the extra time to interact with her.
Washing Elephants ⋙
After the elephant show we would wash and scrub Jum down. These moments were always filled with giggles as Jum would fill her trunk with water and spray her back and in doing so, spraying me. I always looked forward to getting to do this just about everyday.
Elephant “Trekking” ⋙
There is a lot of ethical debate on riding elephants, and while I’ve seen the videos and read the articles, I agree with major parts of it, and there are other parts that I disagree with. Yes, putting a saddle on an elephant is harmful for the elephant. Their back’s are not made to hold that kind of weight. However, their necks can support your weight and you can ride them without causing pain. Another thing to look into is how the elephants you ride have been trained. Some mahouts do beat their elephants, which isn’t something that’s okay or should be supported. While at Safari Park I got to meet their head mahout who had just come back to work after having a near-death experience with an elephant, and he still loves the animals he works with and believes that you’re able to, and should, train elephants without inflicting pain.
The elephant trekking at Safari Park was riding the elephants down to the river and in our case it was getting sprayed repeatedly by the Jum. Other days have been spent going deeper and further into the river. I can’t wait to get to do this again!
I am so excited to see what new and amazing changes have happened with the new elephant program and to be part of it as soon as possible! I’m really proud of the people working hard to better the lives of the elephants here.
Volunteering at Safari Park Zoo is truly one of the greatest experiences, not only of this trip, but of my life. I got to work closely with animals that I never imagined I would get to work with and help better their lives. I worked alongside some amazing people who are truly passionate about what they do and the animals they work with! Like I said previously, the reality is that these animals will always live in captivity, but the owners, staff and volunteers are doing their best to make the most of these animals’ lives. There have already been several changes and improvements in the four months since I left Safari Park (wow, it feels like yesterday!) and I cannot wait to see the changes to come! If you’re in Thailand and want to get involved, check out more about volunteering with them HERE.
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