So before I get started, it is necessary to point out that since I visited Thailand in 2013, I have learned that riding elephants is inhumane because the training is sometimes cruel. Had I known that at the time I would not have participated in this. From what I saw, all of the elephants at the Royal Thai Elephant Conservation in Chiang Mai were treated well.
In fact, they had one of the only elephant hospitals in the world. The hospital found stranded baby elephants whose mothers were killed for their tusks and nursed them back to health. The hospital also created the first artificial leg for an elephant.
On top of having an amazing hospital, the mahouts (elephant trainers) also really cared for the elephants. Becoming a mahout is a well respected job in Thailand, however, it does not pay well so the life is difficult. Mahouts are mentored for several years before they are matched with their own elephant. Once matched, mahouts and elephants are paired together for life. Mahouts that care for elephants with tusks are responsible for watching them late at night, making sure people do not hunt them.
I believe that the majority of the people working at the conservation center had the best intentions for the elephants.
While I was in Thailand, I attended a show at the Elephant Conservation Center that focused on how Americans mistreat elephants.
Top 10 Moments with the Elephants
1. Meeting the elephants in the morning with sugar cane.
2. Daily swims with the elephants.
3. Hiking deep into the jungle on an elephant.
4. Playing "basketball" in the elephant show.
5. Buying an elephant painting.
6. Learning how to make paper out of elephant dung. (Yeah, this is kind of disgusting, too). I didn't want a picture of me on the internet trying to do that so here is a photo of me and the amazing man that cares for the elephant I hung out with for a week.
7. Meeting the baby elephants.
8. Visiting the elephant hospital. (Sorry, I didn't take pictures there. Ugh!)
9. Learning Thai elephant commands. Please note how "Ya" actually means "No" in Thai. Very confusing and kind of scary when you are riding an elephant for the first time and keep trying to say no. (Blurry picture. Oops!)
10. Casually hanging out with elephants all day long. THIS WAS SO COOL.