Yesterday I visited the Chiang Mai Nature Park and I found the experience to be both uplifting and depressing.
It certainly felt wonderful to finally see elephants moving around freely without being forced to paint or perform stupid tricks and being handled by people who obviously cared about them. We, the visitors, fed and bathed the elephants but the best part of the trip was watching elephants behaving like elephants and not circus freaks.
But what was extremely depressing was the film they showed us which reminded everyone that domestic baby elephants are still routinely tied up in tiny cages where they are beaten and tortured for days and deprived of food to break their spirits. I saw one elephant at the park (though not a baby) who was blind because his previous owner had poked the elephant’s eyes out.
A few years ago People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had exposed these atrocities against baby elephants and the Thai government had responded by saying those abuses were isolated instances, the government was working to improve the situation and that PETA was pulling a publicity stunt. The government lied on all counts and it is still legal for owners to murder and torture domestic elephants. Since the purpose of most domestic elephants is to serve the tourist industry, we foreigners are to blame for the elephants begging in the streets or being abused at the elephant shows. We should be giving our money to places such as the Elephant Nature Park so we can be helping the elephants instead of harming them.