The following is the entry sent in by the winner of our August 2014 photo competition, Carrie Shoultz. Thanks, Carrie, for the beautiful photo and for raising awareness about the elephants' plight in Thailand.
My photo is of The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
When travelling in Thailand there are so many different opportunities to interact with incredible animals, including the Thai elephant. However, dig a little deeper and you'll find that the animal tourism has been tragic for most of these animals. The incredibly social elephant is removed from its mother as young as 6 months of age and "broken" through phajaan training. They are taught to fear their mahouts and then brought to the streets to beg and do tricks for tourists. As they get older, they are taken to trekking camps where they are given drugs to keep them from sleeping so that they they load as many groups of tourists on their backs as possible.
The Elephant Nature Park rescues disabled elephants from these horrendous conditions. The elephants at the park will never again experience chains or the bull hook. They come to the park blind, deaf, with broken backs, hips, and feet. But, at the park they find freedom.
I had the amazing opportunity to take part in their week long Journey to Freedom project in the mountains where the Karen tribes live. The park pays the Karen to keep their elephants in the mountains, instead of sending them to the cities to make money from tourism. I spent a week climbing the mountains in one of the most untouched places I've ever been. And we interacted with these amazing animals, but we did not ride them and they did not perform tricks for us. They were simply free to be elephants.
If you are planning a trip to Thailand I *beg* you to please reconsider buying that banana to feed to the elephant on the street, don't pay to ride the elephants in the trekking camps. Seek out organizations that focus on the elephants' well-being over tourists' entertainment.
Sent in by Carrie Shoultz