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Baan Chang Elephant Park Part 2: How To Train An Elephant (Or Try At Least)

After an awesome first day at Baan Chang, it was time for the “main event”!
Time to train, trek and bathe with the elephaaaaants!! Gaaahh!

Now, I was wary about joining just any mahout training course because the last thing I wanted to do was help fund the inhumane treatment of elephants (similar to Mali’s case).

So, I tried to research as much as I could online, and I also wanted to talk to the Baan Chang tour coordinator in person to express my concern for the elephants’ well-being, and well, my power as a blogger (albeit not a super popular one, but still) to expose malicious acts to my readers. But you’ll never really know what they will be like until you get there.

[With Dag, Michelle, Amy and Joe, waiting to be briefed in our not-so-fabulous mahout outfits]

[Feeding sugar cane to an elephant…yup, my hand’s in there somewhere. And they eat anywhere between 200-350 kilograms of food. Whut.]

The Use of Hooks / Weapons at Elephant Camps / Parks

After giving the elephants a morning snack, our head mahout Woody briefed us on proper elephant etiquette, and apologized in advance for the possibility of him using his hook on an elephant.

[Woody up front, with his hook, and other mahouts and their elephants in the background]

Woody explained that sometimes, some elephants do bad / naughty things to each other or to people, and the hook was used to discipline them. Sometimes, just showing them the hook would be enough to calm them down, and elephants have 3-inch thick skin, so it would have to take considerable force to hurt them.

I had also spoken to Tinar, the Baan Chang booking agent, about this, and she explained that sometimes, the use of the hook was necessary, and she felt better because Baan Chang was at least transparent about it, unlike other elephant camps who show the pretense of not using weapons on the elephants but concealing nails in their hands. 🙁

I am happy to report, however, that I did not see the mahouts use their hooks on their elephants, and I could feel that they really loved the elephant under their care.

[Elephant munching on bananas with his mahout resting on his back]

My Brief “Mahout” Stint

After being oriented, it was time! First, Woody taught us how to ride an elephant with the appropriate commands. I’m not sure I did it right though, but I think the elephant got it after a few times, and with the help of its mahout. 😛

[Practicing alighting and disembarking from Tong-en :P]

[Trekking with Mae Hong something — I couldn’t quite catch what the mahout said the elephant’s name was. I shared an elephant with Jessica of England. You have to pay for 2 people if you want an elephant to yourself. :P]

After an all too brief trek (around 45 minutes — but it’s okay, we don’t want to overwork the elephants), it was time to bathe the elephants!

While I was looking forward to this fun activity, I was a bit worried about wading in a pond filled with elephant pee and floating chunks of poo. But it wasn’t nearly as foul-smelling as I thought it would be. Just be careful not to get the water in your eyes. 😛

[Some humping action going on! Exhibitionist elephants :P]

[With our elephant’s mahout]

It was an awesome 2 days, and I would definitely do this again. 🙂
View more pictures here.

Gotta rush off now!

Heading for Laos,

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Baan Chang Elephant Park
147/1 Rachadamnoen Road
Muang, Chiang Mai, Thailand
+66 53 814174 / +66 89 6355206 — They reply efficiently!