Considering our project is focused on marine conservation we tend not to talk about this day enough but its pretty epic...
Your day starts in the kitchen, chopping up fruit and preparing the morning feed for the elephants. We have very few projects apart from this one where you get the chance to really interact with the animals as unfortunately, many of those kind of projects aren't great and just tourist traps, which exploit the animals and don't align with our conservation values.
However, this programme works with elephants that have already gone through the awful process known as 'Phajaan', meaning crushing. This is where an elephant calf is taken from the mother (many of which are normally killed) and goes through a series of beatings to break down, crush, the spirit of the elephant. A mahout, acting as a knight in shinning armour, is then introduced to the baby elephant (calf) to take care of them - usually a relationship that lasts for the lifetime of the elephant and a very close bond is created. Some mahouts may be kind to their 'new baby' but the damage is already done and now you have a domesticated elephant scared to death of human beings, who will obey almost any order, in some cases by just using a banana behind the ear. Of course this is much better than chains and hooks and if you see this it is a sign that they do follow some good practices as there are many others still using the ankus.
The reason the elephants are so obedient, using such a small and harmless fruit, is because during the Phajaan series a metal hook, known as an ankus or bull hook, is violently used to prod and poke the calf, so whether it's a hook, banana or even a feather, the animal is conditioned to obey that order or the result will be tremendous pain. So, don't be fooled if a sanctuary/attraction tell you, "it's fine, it's just a banana" - the damage has already been done but look around for other signs as if they are using bananas but they have large space to explore and feed and have the opportunity to socialise and roam free then it could well be one of the 'few' good ones.
Owning elephants in Asia is like owning a Fierrari in the western world so there is a great deal of corruption and a social image to uphold, along with years worth of culture and tradition, which makes it a difficult subject to deal with and a lot of red tape. Therefore, as travellers and tourists we should not promote these activites and should never ride elephants.
The elephants on this project have been rescued from the entertainment industry and now have the chance to live a relatively free life, where you get to see their natural behaviours from mud bathing, tree-scratching and socialising. I say 'relatively' as the space may not be as big as their usual, and wild, migration routes but it is still a much better life than their previous one.
Having the opportunity to be so close to the largest, and must humble, land mammals on our planet is quite an incredible experience and one I will never forget. Whether it's just their sheer size, affection or deep low frequency rumbles that vibrate every bone in your body, it's difficult to put into words as it's more of a feeling that you'll never forget.
Following the elephant project, tours of Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Erawan National Park and Bridge on River Kwai we make our way down to the islands, which is where the marine conservation element begins. It doesn't matter if you've never dived before as we'll help you gain your open water and advanced qualifications in week 1 before going on to the scientific diving in week 2 but if you already have those you can dive straight in (excuse the pun) to week 2 and gain even more experience in the marine conservation world. From giant clam nurseries to grey tip reef sharks you'll gain invaluable skills and qualifications that will help with your career or just be part of an epic adventure.
Travel safe ;)
Travel addict, food lover and conservationist - check out our videos here.