Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Elephants

How to begin to write about the elephants? I must admit: of everything on the itinerary for this trip, going to the Maesa Elephant Camp was the one excursion I was almost dreading. Not because I didn't want to see the elephants - quite the contrary. I just didn't want to see the elephants in captivity. I had read up on the camp prior to visiting, so I knew that the elephants there put on a daily show for the tourists where they play soccer, dance, play games and even paint (yes - the famous painting elephants!). It sounded so circus-y to me, I wasn't certain it would be my cup of tea. But I was going to find out, first-hand.

As expected, the performing act was not my cup of tea (even though the painting is really cool), but aside from that element, the rest of the experience at the park was pretty worthwhile. The elephants each have their own individual trainer, called a mahout, who sticks with that one elephant for the long haul. They form really strong bonds, and I saw a lot of affection between the mahouts and their charges. True, the elephants were chained at the foot when contained, but it seemed to me that they got plenty of exercise and were very healthy. The camp even has an elephant nursery and breeding program, working in their own small way to combat the Asian elephant's losing battle with extinction. The tourism factor becomes a necessary element in financially supporting their well-being.

So I was digging it, once I got beyond the performance (I left mid-way). The elephants are very friendly and attuned to people - I got to pet them, and feed them treats of sugar cane and bananas. I even went for an elephant ride. At the end of the day, I was thrilled to have spent some time around the gentle giants.

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