by Heather Boylan
(Denver, Colorado, USA)
The Patara Elephant Farm is a true Chiang Mai gem. I researched the variety of elephant “tours” available in the area.
Based on my personal values about elephants and the intimate experience I would have with an elephant at Patara, this was the best one for me.
When my group first arrived at the farm Pat, founder, gave us an hour-long orientation about elephant conservation (and abuse) in Thailand, and the process of choosing an “elephant tour.”
He explained the “marketing” processes whereby various tour companies say negative things about each other and the whole “elephant tourism” business, then try to sell you their tour, which is “different.” It was interesting hearing this from his perspective.
This elephant farm is actually a breeding center, having birthed 10 elephants, with another about to give birth any minute. There are 24 elephants on the farm, many of whom have been “rescued” from other farms and tourism sites or relinquished by owners who can no longer keep them. The elephant is the sacred Thai animal, and no elephant is thought to “belong” to anyone other than the King!.
The family running this farm are merely the caretakers of the elephants on site – it doesn’t “own” elephants. That said, at night the elephants who live here are chained up (by very long chains) so they don’t wander into the street. This policy was instated within the last year only because a local farmer ran into one – the elephant was fine, but the farmer, sadly, was not.
Pat explained that while Elephants in Thailand used to number over 6000 of these wonderful animals, the population is now down to around 3200; elephant longevity is another goal of the center. Elephants tend to die of malnutrition, skin infections, and mental issues; these are the primary aspects of good elephant care.
The elephants at Patara eat only locally grown food and drink the water directly from the river on the property. Elephants thrive best with organic produce and clean water, and will even reject water that is full of chemicals or pollutants. Unfortunately, they can and do die of dehydration when not provided with the cleanest of water to drink. The Patara Farm has never lost an elephant.
This program is called “elephant owner for a day;” participants are in charge of the health check, feeding, and bathing, of their elephant. While we listened to Pat, the elephant keepers “sized us up” – attempting to figure out which elephant would “fit” each of us best.
Pat emphasized that the elephant “ride” would not be the highlight of this trip like it was in other elephant programs. Swimming with these incredible creatures was a spectacular experience.
A day after the trip, the Patara folks delivered a DVD to my hotel, full of professional-quality photos and videos documenting the experience.
For more information about the Patara Elephant Farm – which I highly recommend for anyone visiting the Chiangmai area – please visit their website.
For more information about my experience at Patara Elephant Farm, as well as other travel experiences in Thailand and Asia, please visit my Thailand Volunteer Adventure blog.