Elephant Nature Park
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|Location||Chiang Mai Province, Thailand|
|Land area||250 acres (100 ha)|
|Number of animals||37|
|Number of species||1 (Asian elephant)|
Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants in Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai Province, Northern Thailand, approximately 60 kilometres (37 mi) from Chiang Mai City. Founded in 1996, the project's aim is to provide sanctuary for distressed elephants from all over Thailand. Set in a natural valley, bordered by a river, and surrounded by forested mountains the sanctuary and surrounding area also offers a glimpse of rural life.
Its founder, Sangduen "Lek" Chailert, was born in 1962 in the small hill tribe village of Baan Lao in Northern Thailand. Her maternal grandfather was a tribal man of the forest and a traditional healer, Lek's jungle forays with him led to an early understanding of nature. When she was young, her family cared for an elephant which became a close companion to her. This affection led to working with elephants in the forests.
After completing a Bachelor of Arts from Chiang Mai University, Lek Chailert founded the Elephant Heaven Nature Park in 1996, in an attempt to provide a sanctuary for elephants to live in a peaceful natural environment. This location was closed in 2003 as the Elephant Nature Park opened.
The park has close ties with Chiang Mai-based Save Elephant Foundation, also founded by Lek Chailert.
The park is set in Mae Taeng valley, Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand. It is located some 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai International Airport. In an area which abounds with elephant parks and camps, this is the only one which rescues mistreated elephants, allows them heal and to live naturally in their self-chosen family groups. The park area comprises 250 acres (100 ha).
Rescue of elephants
Elephant Nature Park has rescued over 37 distressed elephants throughout the country, with an emphasis on surrounding Northern Thailand areas. The park's current herd includes disabled, orphaned, blind, and rescued elephants of all ages. Most elephants have been rescued from street begging, logging, or tourism. Some outlived their usefulness to loggers while others became useless to trekking camp owners.
Three elephants are as old as 64 while five young elephants (aged 1 to 5) were born in the park.
Chailert's work takes her deep into the jungles of Northern Thailand where, with the help of medical staff, she treats tribal villagers and their families with medical care and, often, donated clothing. Her "Jumbo Express" program provides much needed care to elephants in the jungles in Chiang Mai province and beyond. A veterinarian from the park also provides medical care to sick elephants in remote areas.
The emphasis is on rescue and conservation rather than shows or training. Park sustainability and preservation programs are focused on local culture, common sense, and a deep conviction in preservation of the region. In one program, individual trees are saved by tying sacred saffron cloth around each tree, which locals are the reluctant to cut down, fearing insults to jungle spirits.
The park is open to visitors all year round and also welcomes overnight stays as well as longer-term volunteer placements.
Lek Chailert's efforts have been recognised worldwide and numerous reports have appeared on television and print media including National Geographic and the Smithsonian Society, but also feature documentaries from numerous film production companies including Animal Planet, the BBC, and CNN. Most notably, Lek Chailert was named Asian Hero of the Year by Time magazine in 2005 and received in the White House by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010.
Awards for park and founder
- 2012 Polish Foundation Award
- 2011 Thailand Good Deed Award
- 2008 Outstanding Woman of Thailand Award
- 2006 Doctor Honoris causa of Veterinarian Science, awarded by HM Crown Prince of Thailand
- 2006 Earth Day Award
- 2005 Time magazine's list of "Asia's Heroes"
- 2003 Guest of Honor of the US Humane Society's Genesis Awards
- 2001 Ford Foundation's "Hero of the Planet"
Interaction with elephants in the park
- "Elephant Conservation Visits, Trips & Volunteering at our park". elephantnaturepark.org. Elephant Nature Park. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
- Hile, Jennifer (17 October 2002). "Reporter's Notebook: Elephants Heal at Thai "Heaven"". National Geographic. Retrieved 2006-02-06.
- "Founder Receives Outstanding Woman of Thailand Award in Royal Ceremony". elephantnaturepark.org. Elephant Nature Park. 8 March 2008. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
- Paewsoongnern, Saichon (2006-05-06). "Park Founder receives honorary PhD from Crown Prince". Chiang Mai Mail. Retrieved 2006-02-06.
- Zabriskie, Phil (2005-10-03). "Asia's Heroes 2005, Sangduen "Lek" Chailert Thailand's Elephant Woman". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2006-02-06.
- "2003 Genesis Awards". Archived from the original on 2005-12-02. Retrieved 2006-02-06.
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