While I’ve never had a particular fascination with elephants, when I found myself in Chiang Mai, Thailand, last month, I felt compelled to take the opportunity to see Asian elephants up close. After doing some research, we booked a trip with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We got up super early to meet our vehicle, an open-air truck fitting eight people in the back, alongside dozens upon dozens of bananas, aka soon-to-be elephant fodder. As we hurtled down the highway, I tried to think happy elephant thoughts – and not to focus on the lack of seat belts, or even doors. Then we turned off the paved road and the really nerve-wracking part started, as we drove extremely slowly down an incredibly steep and narrow trail into the jungle.
But it was all worth it, because that day we got to feed elephants bananas and grasses, frolic with them in a mud bath, look into their brown eyes, and watch them hang out as we ate lunch – none of which I’d ever imagined being able to say. But I have photographic evidence, so I guess it really happened.
A couple of days later, we saw elephants again, this time in a much sadder context, at the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital. A private institution, they look out for elephant welfare in Thailand, while taking in and rehabilitating elephants needing special care. I’m grateful for their incredible – but heartbreaking work – which includes helping elephants injured by landmines, which they fit with unique prosthetic limbs.