Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Patara Elephant Farm

Today was our first visit to see the elephants that Chiang Mai is so famous for. Scheduled to visit Patara Elephant Farm, we were picked up by our driver at 7.30am with a trip of about an hour ahead of us. I am finding the view from a vehicle, out into the world, an entertaining one, so happily spent the trip peering out at the traffic chaos surrounding us. We arrived at Patara and the fun began. We were barely out of the car and the elephants being brought in to work with us for the day came past us and down the hill. These animals really are incredible. So huge, up close, but also exuding a calm presence. It was inspiring just to be near these animals, knowing that they would accept us as part of their world for the day. Other couples joining us for the day were from all over the world. In our group we had two couples from Bordeaux, France; one from New York and one from the UK. So, with Frank and I from Australia, a truly international bunch. The local Karen tribespeople from the mountains of Burma Thai border region of Chiang Mai are the traditional elephant keepers of the Mai Sim area. These people are also known for their beautiful woven fabrics, so it was no surprise to see we were allocated a cotton tunic each to wear for the day. The official reason give was that the elephants would "see" us as a Karen trainer. Somehow I think that the elephants were to smart to be caught out by this....apart from the fact that when we went swimming we all took our tunics off! So, we passed around the bundle of tunics, selecting whichever colour appealed to us. For some reason, although I am usually a red girl, I selected a green tunic, only to be told that "elephants like green, because they think of you as a banana leaf". I responded "Great - I'm dressed as elephant food!" Everyone laughed.
We all had a chance to feed some sugar cane to one elephant who had very kindly stopped for us, then it was over to "elephant school" for a while. The trainers were great, taking great care to teach us how to recognise the signs of a "happy" elephant. So, flapping ears and swinging tail are good. You can approach, touch and feed the elephant. If you don't see these signs, don't go near them. Elephants too have bad days, mostly for the females as they can get hormonal as part of their cycle. Makes sense, especially when you realise that a pregnant elephant has up to 24 months gestation for a male calf, and slightly less (a month or so) for a female calf. The things you learn. 28.1.2013

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