Saturday, February 28, 2015

Our Elephant Adventure

Allow me introduce you to my elephant.  I adopted her for the day at Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai Thailand.  Since I couldn't pronounce her Thai name (Mae Bwaan Tong) very well, I nicknamed her "Betty".  It was love at first sight.  This is an extraordinary experience, one of the best things I've ever done ~ let me tell you about it.

To begin with, you'll notice that I'm wearing a pretty darn fetching tunic which co-ordinates nicely with my elephant pants. Elephants have very harsh wiry hair, and this gets very irritating after awhile ~ and we will be riding them for hours.  So the pants are made of special fabric that protects you from getting poked.  For hours.).  This is what the trainers at Patara wear, as part of the Karen Hill Tribe, so now the elephants are going to trust me as one of  the crew that cares for and feeds them.  At least, this is what I've been told. 

We get a short intro from the staff to start the day, and once we changed into our attire in an open-air bathroom (yes, that's a whole story),we headed off to meet the troops.  


We were eagerly greeted by the animals, and an especially frisky baby.  Small wonder that they are so excited to see us, once you see what kind of spa day is in store for them.  

How do you greet an elephant?   First of all, we are taught how to greet our elephant.  It works best if you have a basket of bananas and sugar cane in your possession.  

Then you stand directly in front of them and call out their name.  Loudly.  With authority.  (This was a little problematic for me, 'cause I had trouble remembering her Thai name, and since she didn't speak English she didn't recognize the nickname I gave her).  Anyhow, once she indicates that it's safe, that she has accepted you (and wants the food you are holding), you can advance to feed and pet her and get acquainted.

How do you know, you might ask, if she has accepted you?   Good question!   She will wave her great big floppy ears at you -- reminiscent, to me, of a dog wagging it's tail.  (Notice Betty's ears in the first photo).  If she does not wag her ears, you should just back off, eat a banana, and call it a day.  It's never a good idea to mess with a crabby elephant.

How do you feed an elephant?
Now comes the surprise.  We get to stick the food directly into her great big mouth. OK, that was just a little scary.  But she was surprising gentle and very well mannered about the whole thing.  (Unless you are not fast enough, then you will get the snuffly trunk treatment as she's seeking the next bite.)  Also, we learned that their teeth are much further back, making the front cavity of their mouth a relative safe haven for stray fingers and such.  Or so they told me.

Next, we carry big bundles of sugar cane for them to eat.  Yes, it's starting to be a workout taking care of an elephant, even if just for the day. 

Following breakfast comes the daily health inspection.  What, you might ask, is an elephant daily health inspection?   Oh, I'm so glad you asked.  First of all, we are going to count their dung heaps.  Another surprise.  


Betty is pretty healthy.  
She has 7 poops for the day.

But it gets better.  Now we are going to pick up and analyze one of the poops.  The day is just full of surprises!  Actually, because these huge creatures are vegetarians, it was not an unpleasant experience.  Sort of smells and feels like hay.  

Paying attention to what they discard is a big key to analyzing the health of the animal.  How well are they chewing their food (how good are their teeth?);  how well are they digesting their food (how much liquid is present ~ and how many poops?).  Things like this are important keys for the trainers to keep their animals healthy. 

Next we take a 360 walk around the elephant.  She should have a ring of dirt around her entire body.  Why?   Because they sleep lying down, and are so enormously heavy (8,000 - 9,000 pounds) that they do this in shifts. They normally sleep for 4 hours on one side, then stand up for 30-45 minutes, then sleep another 3 hours on their other side.  If you do not see the dirt ring on both sides, it can mean that she is ill and is sleeping standing up, or not turning over; all distress signals for her handlers.

We're almost done.  Next we inspect the elephant's feet / toes.  This is an essential key to the elephant's health.  These feet are supporting several tons of weight, for one thing; but the other important element is:  How does an elephant perspire?   Weird, I know, but this gigantic animal perspires only through glands on the top of her toenails.  I would never have guessed.  I thought Betty Lou's pedicure was in good shape.  After all, they get an exfoliation treatment every single day in the sandy river bottom.

Now the fun is about to start ~ we get to water our elephant, dust them off, give them a little rinse, and exercise them, which is a 3 hour ride through the jungle to the river; where we get to bath them with this teensy weensy little scrub brush.  But this blog post is already long enough, and since each segment of our day was too interesting to skip over, you will need to tune in to the next installment to find out how we got up onto this huge animal's back without ladders, ropes, lifts or elevators, or even human assistance. I could join the circus now! (Ooops!  Sorry Betty!  That's a nasty word among elephants......) 

And wait till you see what they fed the humans for lunch out there in the jungle!   Stay really don't want to miss a single moment.  I will meet you back here in a couple of days with the rest of the story ~

See the video clip here


  1. Loving the new blog, congratulations and I can't wait to watch you guys enjoy traveling the world!

    1. Thanks Devin! I appreciate that encouragement from a fellow blogger :}. We are off to Spain tomorrow ~ first stop Barcelona!

  2. This is a great article! Great photos too! Mr C? He captures the story well! Lots of great info about the elephants as well as tips for those of us that may get brave enough one day to add this to our bucket list! Cant wait for the rest of the story!!

    1. No, Karen, not Mr. C's photo's, 'cause he was busy with his own elephant (a Mama and baby!). It was a surprise for me to find that the Elephant Camp has it's own photographer who spent the day capturing all the great moments for us. Videos too. Then at the end of the day, they gave us our own CD with all the photos. This is really a nice feature, it allowed us to focus on all 4 tons of our elephant, and I didn't have to worry about juggling a camera at the same time. Or after handling elephant dung!


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