As we departed Chiang Mai and rode into the mountains, we saw a vastly different side of Thailand than what we had previously. We had recently visited Sukhothai, the ancient Thai capital, along with Bangkok and Chiang Mai, two bustling and growing cities. We were now seeing a more rural, traditional side of the country... and it was this lesser known part of Thailand that impacted me most.

While at Elephant Nature Park (ENP), we learned the stories of the elephants who resided there. I was in disbelief when I heard of the various abuse many of themendured over their life times - including being used in the logging industry, forced breeding, and used for popular tourist rides (although elephants are large creatures, their spine is not that strong and carrying people on their backs hurts them). Elephants are exceptionally intelligent creatures; they have the largest brain of any land animal and three times as many neurons as humans. They have distinct personalities and express emotion.

My first reaction to all of their past abuse was one of sadness and anger that someone could ever justify harming an animal in this way, but as I later learned it was more complicated than what I believed to be right and wrong. For hundreds of years the Thai people have believed in the practice of "breaking the spirit" of an elephant before it can work for its mahout. Although this practice may be cruel and outdated, it is deeply ingrained into Thai culture, making it a slow and difficult thing to change.

I think this is why I felt so inspired by Lek, the founder of ENP, and the amazing sanctuary she has created for these incredible animals. Although there is still more we can do, Lek's success has shown me that it is possible to make change even when the odds are against you.


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Author Sophie Frank Posted

Program Southeast Asia Departure Spring 2017