(Title credit to the always wonderful Victoria Winkler)
Bucket list: playing with elephants: CHECK.
Its a pretty typical tourist activity: but hey, there’s no shame in admitting you’re a tourist.
The tourist industry can be, in general, fairly corrupt. It depends on your take on things in general, but we both wanted to do our best to ensure the elephants we played with weren’t mistreated. So we booked with the “Elephant Retirement Sanctuary,” a place where people can put their elephants if they no longer can afford to take care of them or if they want to give them a better life. The animals come from circuses , riding facilities, and other tourist industries where they often use chains and hooks to train them to obey. Elephants are (obviously) not a cheap animal to take care of, so the sanctuary affords to take elephants in by letting people feed them and swim with them. They do not let people ride them as their goal is to “retire” them from the entertainment lifestyle. Ethically, we felt like we learned a lot about elephants and were glad to support an organization centered around giving them a better life.
I will not lie, giraffes (for whatever reason) have always been my favorite animal, but today, elephants took the 1st place spot in my heart.
We started the day by feeding them buckets of bananas. They elephants are taught the term “bon” which means “open your mouth, its food time!” And the elephants respond excitingly by opening their mouths. Basically, from fingertips to wrist, you’re deep in the elephant’s mouth. That was interesting to say the least. They have huge tongues. Sometimes if you took too long to feed them, they would playfully start sniffing/feeling around with their trunks, and grab the bananas out of your hand. I didn’t think if could get cuter then that.
OH, BUT IT DID.
After lunch we changed into the clothes they very kindly provided for us and heading back down to the pond. The mom and her two kids were playfully splashing and flopping around the swimming hole, basically falling on top of each other. I’ve never thought of elephants as particularly playful, but they were so active and fun, my expectations were beautifully exceeded. We swam with them, splashing water on the elephants and on each other, for hours. Once they were done swimming we followed the elephants over to the mud bath. We helped coat their bodies in mud to kill any flees and help them avoid sunburns. This, of course, ended up as a mud fight. Back to the pond to rinse off the animals again.
I, being myself, wasn’t paying attention, and was stepped on by the baby. I was stepped on, by an elephant. I was very lucky to not have a broken foot or anything serious. Besides my slight accident, it was such an incredibly fun day being squirted in the face by (officially) the world’s cutest animal.
(Side note: I also got to hold the hostel owner’s 3 months old baby girl, so I’m officially on a cuteness overload.)