Each year I give a percentage of all proceeds to an animal sanctuary or wildlife rehabilitation center. This year I’m happy to share that all donations will be given to the Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand. I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful sanctuary and spent a couple days photographing and spending time with their herd. Lek, the founder, has dedicated her life to rescuing elephants, giving them a place to heal from their abuse, both medically and emotionally. I learned so much, from how much it takes to feed them each day (up to 6oo pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables!), to the heartbreaking practice called “Phajaan,” the common tradition of “Breaking the Spirit” of baby elephants for submission. Whether they’ve come from working in the logging industry, giving rides to tourists on their backs, street begging in cities, or sustaining injuries from land mines, this organization has given them a beautiful second chance at a life full of joy, peace, and protection.
Each elephant has their own Mahout, a person who is with them from sunrise to sunset, every single day. They serve as their primary caretaker, protector, and companion. During the long days, they’ll carve wooden figurines of their elephants to sell and raise money for the sanctuary. The average lifespan of an Asian elephant is 70 years, and it’s common for them to have the same Mahout for the majority of their lives.
It’s incredible to watch how connected and caring these gentle giants are, they seem to do everything from the heart. In their family groupings, they are constantly communicating and touching, never straying too far from each other. You can find a blind elephant (like the sweet one below who lost her sight due to abuse), with a seeing companion. They’ll always be side by side, touching with their trunks, so subtly and habitually you almost don’t notice. So much love and intelligence, it was amazing to watch.
A note from Lek, share on their website, about one of their more recent rescues:
“Since we have rescued elephants to our sanctuary, most of them arrive with huge mental issues. Most need time to heal and therapy. The wounds and scars on their hearts sometimes makes healing difficult. It doesn’t matter that we are the human trying to give or pay back with love and supplying to their needs… some elephants still hesitate to trust. At our sanctuary, we strongly believe that only the elephant will understand each other and heal, better than humans can do, so we allow them to form the family groupings as they choose. We let them join the herd and let them heal each other.
For our latest rescue, Seree, her life yesterday and today is like day and night. From the place that she used to work to make money for her owner, to today, where she no longer needs to work again, she is now happy with her new family. She now has Kuhn Déj and Dani to fill her life and can bring her alive again.”
If you’d like to share in a special moment, you can watch Faa Mai being sung a beautiful lullaby below. My hope is that through supporting this organization, more Asian elephants can be rescued to experience moments full of beauty like this.
These beautiful animals are on the brink of extinction.
If you feel called to donate separately, you can find out how HERE..