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.
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.
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.