Elephant Heaven

Sunday, Feb. 6

The first time an elephant wraps its trunk around your wrist and slimes all over you while searching for food is a bit daunting.

But it’s surprising how quickly you get used to something so odd.

Today Matt and I arrived at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

It’s a 75-acre reserve that is dedicated to educating people about the endangered Asian elephant while rehabilitating rescued ones.

It houses 35 elephants (including two babies), over 70 stray dogs, numerous water buffalo and a baby bear.

Nestled amongst the mountains and alongside a river, it’s the perfect setting for any type of tourist.

Besides the typical sightseer, the reserve has hundreds of volunteers that travel from around the world to work with the elephants.

We opted for a three-day visit.

Today, we got up close with the animals and quickly realized just how amazing they are.

For their awesome size, they’re incredibly quiet, slow and gentle.

Their skin, which is an inch thick, is like dry, folded leather, covered in short, wiry hair.

And it’s speckled with a pink hue.

But you have to look closely because the animals are covered in dirt – they use it as a natural sunscreen.

The pink extends from their trunk to their ears.

The edges of their ears are all tattered, providing a lace effect when they flap them back and forth.

It’s something they do when they’re happy, like during feeding time.

As vegetarians, their meals consist of watermelon, cucumber and pumpkin.

After each meal they have a bath in the river where visitors douse them with buckets of water.

While it’s a hands-on experience, the park has also added an educational portion.

They showed a video detailing the decline of the elephant population in Thailand.

It’s fallen 95 per cent in the past 10 years.

That’s mainly because elephants are considered livestock in Thailand and have no laws protecting them.

It’s a mentality that has been part of the culture for thousands of years.

Visiting a small enclosure that is trying to change that point of view is incredibly inspirational.

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