Jokia is a 50 year old elephant that looks well beyond her years. Her spine is crooked, her ears are torn, her body is scarred all over, and she is blind in both eyes. These aren't signs of age however, they are all human inflicted wounds. Jokia, like most of Thailand's domestic elephants, worked in the logging industry for many years, and when logging was banned in 1989, her owner kept her in the trade as he persued logging illegally. Her mahout, elephant keeper, was ruthless. While she was pregant he forced her to continue hauling logs up and down the steep hillside, and one day she gave birth while trudging uphill. The baby rolled away from her and her mahout would not allow her to turn back and try to save her newborn. When she was finally allowed to seek at out baby at the end of the day, it was dead. Jokia fell into a deep depression. The mahout used cruel techniques to prof her to work, but she did not respond. He used a slingshot to shoot rocks at her eye, blinding her, and still eliciting no response. So he used a bow and arrow to shoot her other eye.
Unfortunately this type of treatment of elephants is not uncommon. In addition to logging, many of Thailand's only 2500 remaining domestic elephants work in the tourist trekking business, hauling people on their backs for 6-8 hours a day, or even worse, as street beggers, prowling city streets at night temping foreigners to pay their mahout for the chance to feed and pet the overwhelmed creatures.
Luckily for these abused animals there is a woman named Lek Chailert, who has a deep love of elephants. In 2003 she opened the beautiful 150 acre Elephant Nature Park an hour north of Chiang Mai, and began buying elephantseir freedom. Now 33 elephants graze on her land, are fed watermellon and sweet corn, and romp in the nearby river at their leisure.
In our 2 days and 1 night at ENP Mason and I learned many of the personal and tragic stories of the rescued elephants, and were absolutely shocked. We became close with one elephant, Medo, a young girl in her early 20s who is severely handicapped yet loving her second lease on life.
We spent time feeding and bathing them, and oogling over the two babies- 11 mo. old Faa Mai and 8 mo. old Chang Yim.
The organization is extrememly well run with the focus being on education, so that all of thier visitors can inform others about the plight of elephants, and hopefully, change the face of elephant tourism in Thailand.
We highly recommend a visit!