I Want to Play with the Elephants

From Babar to Heffalump, children love them. Our fascination and affection for these majestic creatures seems to transcend childhood. We identify with them, recognizing their intelligence and admiring their memories. We are amused by their playfulness and moved by their capacity to grieve their dead.

At our best, some of us are humbled that a creature of such power and size could also be so benevolent and gentle. If I was that big, I would probably run around squashing anyone who annoyed me. (That’s why God made me little).


Maybe our enduring love for these lumbering yet graceful cousins says something truly wonderful about us. At least most of us.


How anyone could hurt an elephant is a mystery. That they are hunted for parts, brutalized for profit, humiliated for human entertainment is a sad reflection of humankind. How we treat animals is a measure of our human selves.

This female was rescued from Cambodia, part of her foot blown off by land mines. (The purple stain is medicine applied by the sanctuary doctor)

She came with a surprise. Unknown to sanctuary workers, she was pregnant, birthing a baby boy two weeks after her rescue


I wanted to visit elephants while in northern Thailand but didn’t want to support an operation that used questionable training methods so tourists could ride the elephants or watch them do tricks. That meant finding a sanctuary that didn’t allow tourists to ride the elephants in the first place. Or, entertain tourists by making the elephants perform a bunch of stupid tricks. I just wanted to be close to them, look into their eyes, and touch them so they would know not all human hands were the source of harm.


My research led me to Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for rescued elephants. These are not elephants that can be rehabilitated into the wild. Most of these elephants have outlived their usefulness after the restrictions on logging or have been injured or neglected to a degree that their owners can no longer earn a living from them.

What does an elephant eat? Lots of it


That these elephants can tolerate our touch after so much suffering at our hands speaks to their capacity for forgiveness and willingness to trust. It also speaks to the wonderful work done on their behalf by the staff and volunteers at Elephant Nature Park.


Visiting the park, you don’t get to ride the elephants or watch them stand on their hind legs. You do get to give them a bath, feed them, and feel their hearts beating under that thick skin. You can also meet and have a nice vegetarian lunch with other people who chose to visit this sanctuary for the same reasons as you.




5 thoughts on “I Want to Play with the Elephants

  1. What an absolutely fantastic way to spend your birthday, Magie! I, too, am a big fan of these magnificent creatures. (I’m wearing my ganesh shirt now.) Thanks for sharing your journey – you are a great photographer as well as wordsmith!

  2. Reblogged this on Trying it Expat and commented:
    I’ve been too busy travelling, studying, and meeting friends and family in exotic, far-off destinations to keep up with this blog so I’m borrowing the post of a fellow visitor at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai in Thailand. We were at the park on the same day. Turns out she’s also a Mag(g)ie from San Francisco! And for the (very few) dedicated readers I have, don’t fret! I plan on continuing to blog about our travels after getting home on December 12th. T-17 days till North America!

  3. Wonderful post. Everytime a human takes the time to raise the awareness of the public, we are a baby step closer to protection and conservation of our wildlife. There is an elephant sanctuary in Thailand called Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary. It sounds like a wonderful place for the eles. Here is a link: http://blesele.org/
    Many blessings!

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