In my mailbox today, was a mail from Nitipon Piwmow, Barrister-At-Law in Thailand, representing Sangduen Chailert, with the subject:Notice Letter. For anyone who never heard of Sangduen Chailert (Lek Chailert), she is owner of "Elephant Nature Park up in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, as well as a couple of other "elephant sanctuaries" in Thailand and Cambodia, and in spite of its impressing incomes, estimated to 10. 000-15. 000 $US daily, its referred to as a non-profit. Obviously some of their funding is used to pay lawyers: The mail I received from Nitipon Piwmow, contained the following text:
Dear Mr Koehl,
We write you on behalf of our client, Sangduen Chailert (Lek), on the issue of unreal information and the defamation to Ms Chailert that you are currently posting on your websites below:
Some sources state the name Mr San Tor Ni, others the name Maung Anthony, pictured at a Chiang Mai Hospital
Due to this tragic incident, I believe its time to step forward and give a balancing report to all animal rights activists glorifying of one of the largest scams I have witnessed in Asia, since there seem to be a need to highlight that this is, in no way, a paradise for elephants or the staff, although it has according to sources, an estimated annual income between $US 3. 650. 000 and $US 5. 475. 000 dollars.
Mr San Tor Ni/Maung Anthony can't listen to Leks lies, or her personal interpretation what her elephants says anymore, may he rest in peace.
But let us hope that he is the last death victim for Lek Chailerts experiment, and honor him, and all mahouts in Thailand, who are under constant attacks by Lek and animal rights activists, by telling the truth.
Let the world know the truth about a smart lier, who found an easy way of getting rich and famous, by scamming tourists and naive animal friends, attacking the very people that she depend upon, while threatening species conservation in Thailand by her lies about elephant riding, and elephant training in Thailand.
Let us make Leks all prizes and awards burn on her wall, as the testimony over all falsified stories, and her abuse of truth and elephants, and her staff. Let her millions of dollars burn her pockets. Let her supporters, the animal rights activists, feel shame over their ignorance, and neglect of truth, science and true animal welfare.
Lets hope that official Thai Veterinarians will perform all necessary medical examnisations needed, including blood tests from each elephants, and check-up of potentially lethal Zoonoses, and at least the most suffering elephants can be transferred into the hands of professionals, to get qualified treatment.
And lets hope that Thai authorities will perform an advanced investigation, and that justice be done.
This document is intended to tell my personal point of view about Lek Chailert and Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, as well as my later correspondence with the owners. At the end is section with Economy reports and critical voices.
Some details concerning the management of her elephants which I describe in detail below, can be seen on other places also, with origin in bad economy, low elephant competence, or just plain ignorance and greed.
But it’s a great difference when poor people who cannot read and write do mistakes in their elephant management, compared to an educated person like Lek Chailert, who received international rewards and prices, and makes over 10 000 dollars per day. Lately, the film “Apology to elephants, lifts her to the sky, and makes a false portrait of a heroine, very similar to Pat Derby, founder of PAWS in US. (< READ THAT!)
Lek pretends to make a paradise for elephants at her farm, and lately as a marketing of herself, criticizes almost the rest of the world’s elephant managers. She fabricate stories about abuse of young elephants, smuggle of elephant babies to Thailand from Burma etc., which in most cases are not true at all, the intention of all this is propaganda, in order to convince animal lovers on Internet, that only she knows how to take care of elephants, with the intention of getting even more money from kind people.
The whole world of animal rights activists love Lek Chailert, but what they love is simply a lie, a fabrication of a person who has fooled kind, animal loving people for over 20 years.
Lek normally never employs the previous mahouts who take care of her new bought elephants before, she prefer her Burmese mahouts who accept to work with the cheapest wages. Still, in the propaganda, the cheaper Karen mahouts can be used to give an extra flair to Elephant Nature Park: “Most of the mahouts – caretakers and companions to the elephants – are refugees from Burma and ENP provides them with all the required paperwork to make their employment legal in Thailand.” Or, they work illegally in the Park. Its unknown how many work there illegally, but for sure this category can be trusted never to speak (bad) about their employer, who can kick them at once, and even see that that they get punished for illegal work. But a number of those Burmese Karen mahouts have left ENP during the years, in frustration regarding the conditions.
Still contrary to what all naive visitors think before and after their visit, the main criticism from professional elephant people, is her poor and unprofessional management of her elephants.
Every elephant can be shown to have been abused if you tell the world that to ride an elephant is abuse - so even healthy, happy elephants can be branded as rescues. I think that sooner or later a 'whistle blower' website will be set up in the same way as they have done for the Tiger Temple - I know enough ex-staff who are extremely upset with the difference between what is said and what goes on there. A lot of elephant camp owners have to explain to journalists, donors and potential guests that what they heard from someone who had been to ENP was wrong - or ignoring death threats from her 'fans'.” - (Anon)
“The big elephant issues at ENP (forgetting the business ethics and mistreatment of mahouts) are the number of dead elephants that died for no reason other than ignorance. I have heard so many obviously true stories over the years.” (cite: Anon)
"The advanced degree of the decay seen in the majority of feet trimmed is harmful to the elephants, causing pain and lameness. Left untreated, the foot infections can become systemic and even life threatening. Allow the elephants to spend more time off chains to allow for natural posturing and movement. The elephants should be given the freedom to wander where they wish and when they wish, and not be forced to adhere to a show schedule to accommodate the public and volunteers. Mahouts should shadow the elephant but not dictate their movements". (Carol Buckley) Economy On numerous places can be read: Elephant Nature Foundation is a non-profit organization which advocates and acts on behalf of the rights of Asian elephants in Thailand, as well as Elephant Nature Park is a Thailand elephant conservation project.
From ENPs website 2013:
Save Elephant Foundation is a Thai registered non-profit organization. We are required by law to provide annual reports to the government providing transparency regarding our funding, our spending and our progress. Claims regarding any sort of profit are false. Our registration with the Thai government can be found on our Web site, www.saveelephant.org and our annual report can be accessed via request. Sounds good? In reality, Lek seems to have numerous accounts, and beside the foundation a company and no one can get a real insight in her economy, which is far from transparent. A visitor wrote in 2013:
"We were also told that the place costs $250,000 US dollars to operate every year. If you multiply the 2,500 baht cost of admission by how many people come per day, the place could easily pull in 2-4 million US dollars per year! So I have no idea how the money is spent...we not only got ripped off but we wasted one of our few days in Chiang Mai!" It is estimated, that she makes around 10 000 – 15 000 US $ per day- A LOT OF MONEY:
Lek and sincerity: I have no doubt whatsoever that she really loves elephants, but I disbelieve her pleas of poverty. ENP makes at least $10,000 a day all year around. It is a huge profit maker. It is a private business.
If she loves the elephants so much, why doesn't she change from being a business to become a legally registered Thai non-profit foundation, where all the elephants and land are property of the foundation -- a foundation with a proper board of directors, two annual meetings, and open account books. The need for a foundation is also because she takes so much donated money from overseas.
If she were to get die or get killed -- say a head-on crash driving to CM -- I think her elephants would get scattered far and wide. (Anon)
The only account, where one can get insight, is her UK charity. UK Charity
Elephant Nature Foundation UK is a registered UK charity (#1117758) that supports the work of Elephant Nature Foundation registered on MS LEK CHAILERT and MRS PHYLLIS KIRKLAND, HILLTOP, WINDMILL HILL, SHERE ROAD, WEST HORSLEY, LEATHERHE,
During eight years, 2008-2016, a total income of £359. 668 (US$ 519.80 US Dollars), while £267. 553 were spent. Where are the missing £92. 115?
And this just the income from the UK charity, the only single one account, that is transparent?
...still she thinks she has not enough money to buy proper food for the animals? Something that could be included in the Charitable objects:
TO ADVANCE PUBLIC EDUCATION IN PARTICULAR BY PROVIDING EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMMES THAT RAISE PUBLIC AWARENESS BOTH NATIONALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY, OF THE PROBLEMS FACING BOTH WILD AND DOMESTICATED ASIAN ELEPHANTS AND BY SUPPORTING AND CONDUCTING RESEARCH INITIATIVES THAT INVESTIGATE THE LONG-TERM SUSTAINABILITY OF ASIAN ELEPHANT, AND THE ENVIRONMENT (AND WHERE POSSIBLE, PUBLISHING THE USEFUL RESULTS OF SUCH RESEARCH).
TO FURTHER SUCH CHARITABLE PURPOSES FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE INDIGENOUS LOCAL COMMUNITIES IN PARTICULAR BUT NOT EXCLUSIVELY IN ASIA BY ESTABLISHING PROJECTS THAT PROMOTE AND ENCHANCE THEIR WELL BEING AND WITH THE AIM OF HELPING TO REDUCE HUMAN-ELEPHANT CONFLICTS.''
First I want to share some notes from my visit five years ago, to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, in 11th of March 2011.
During winters in 2010 and 2011 I travelled in Asia from camp to camp to document elephants in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, and I e-mailed Sangduen "Lek" Chailert, founder of the Elephant Nature Park upon my arrival in Chiang Mai.
I have had correspondence with Lek Chailert since 2007, and although elephant “sanctuaries” seldom has something interesting to see in terms of scientific values, since they are mostly founded on emotional base by young post-missionary white people who want to became famous by enlighten the "less educated tribespeoples" and become heroes in the eyes of animal rights activists in their home countries,
But I was interested to visit ENP. Lek was known to run an interesting project, but also to have initiated a lot of problems for other camps and elephant owners in Thailand, and initiating campaigns towards the Thai elephant community and business. Locals state she started like every one else with elephant rides, and then made a shortcut, with less work, and more money in her pocket. Still, I was still neutral regarding her location, when I wrote her, once I arrived in Chiang Mai from northern Thailand, and asked if I could come for a visit.
Lek Chailert generously invited me to Elephant Nature Park during my visit to Chiang Mai in November 2011. My visit extended afternoon, overnight, and one days stay when I was walking around, witnessing the absolutely worst case of elephant management I have ever experienced, during almost 40 years as professional elephant manager and consultant. For me, on a criminal level.
Training standard and management
Watching the elephants at ENP during my visit first filled me with an amusing feeling which was soon changed to anger. I was prepared to see invalid elephants; since Lek are collecting those, and disobedient elephants, since hooks are officially prohibited, but I was surprised to see the poor shape most of the elephants were in due to the unprofessional, poor management. Elephants were walking around, pretty apathy, while some mahouts were trying to make them to move, with endless commands, or trying to lure them with fruits etc.
Obviously they didn't roam free like they do in a Zoo, but were supposed to walk on some "streets" on the previous potatoes-field, in order not to destroy the grass, as can be seen on this picture below.
Compared to riding camps where the elephants during the tourist rides, leave the grounds and are ridden out in the forest, Leks elephants are confined to her "park", since they are more or less uncontrollable. They have the freedom to be chained 14 hours, and the rest move around like a prisoner, not like in a Zoo where the elephants are allowed to walk free in the enclosure..
It seemed each and every elephants walked single with the mahouts, and there was a lot of pathetic pulling in ears, bribing with bananas etc, and still the mahouts had to use an enormous amount of time, just to make an elephant to come down to the river for a bath.
But... what is in the hands of the mahout at minute 5.37, when the mahout is running after an elephant attacking a volunteer?
If the mahout is not allowed to use hooks, still it sees they have some sharp objects, hidden in their pockets? Which of course Lek Chailert knows, but she prefer not to tell the truth about that.
Also the language bridge between the Burmese mahouts, who doesn't speak English, and the public, creates safety risks.
Here is some witness reports:
“For some perverse gentlemanly reason I'd never mention that place by name when criticizing but I am happy to support criticism of practices that look good to the uneducated but hurt elephants in the long run, or the hypocrisy like telling people that your elephants can be trained by love - only to see them chained 24 hours a day or sent elsewhere for 'traditional' training when they break the owner's ribs, or that you don't need hooks when the mahouts all carry nails or slingshots."
”I dont have evidence myself, but another guest told me that she saw mahouts used spikes which they touched the elephants with in different situations”
"The elephants seemed crammed in too - they were fighting with each other and guys hitting them with big sticks - I asked our guide why they were being hit and she told us it is normal...."
"They do not use elephant hooks but employ other less obvious means to inflict pain to control the elephants. The use of nails, slingshots, sticks and other weapons should be banned. Allow the elephants to spend more time off chains to allow for natural posturing and movement, which has a direct impact on the wear pattern on their pads and nails. The majority of the mahouts speak Burmese and do not understand Thai or English. The language barrier makes working with them difficult. It also creates a safety hazard for them when working elephants in close contact with the public because the mahouts are unable to communicate with the public.". (Carol Buckley)
Hope was sent because he was out of control and it was probably after he attacked Lek. By the way, that's the story on how she broke her ribs. (Anon)
But without a normal free contact training system, where elephant hooks are allowed, both peoples and elephants safety is something which the poor mahouts can't not control as a visitors write on Tripadvisor:
"The elephants were wonderful and there were some good highlights watching them play but there were too many in a small space and lots of pushing and fighting between them. I was told by one course volunteer that the previous week one elephant had attacked and killed another which suggests there are too many animals in a small space. If an elephant can be killed there must be a risk to people when there are so many there."
Elephants killed by other elephants? A paradise?
The older elephants are often pushed over by the younger elephants and I know this has happened at ENP and a couple of elephants have died from injuries sustained. Bull elephants have also been kept on chains and are apparently in musth (all year) because there is no one with experience to look after them. (Anon)
The safety issues at ENP are a very important issue, that should be researched by officials.
Last I heard Hope and another young male, Jungle Boy, were so dangerous that they could not be handled. Lek was saying she was going to let them go free in the jungle, etc., but that is clearly impossibly without the royal reintroduction program, which will have nothing to do with here. Yet another instance of why tough but fair training is best for the elephant in the long run. (Anon)
Apart from this, it seems only a minority of the elephants are showcased daily, while the others stay chained the entire day, or are caged. The visitors doesn't see that it's the same elephants being walked around on the grounds, or bathed in the river, and they don't ask why the caged elephants are not allowed to come ot from the cages. Only for extreme reasons, a normal Zoo would confine their elephants to a cage for longer periods.
And why doesn't the visotors reflect on the fact, that the elephants are not let free to use the area as they wish, like they do in a Zoo? Still those visitors actually believe that the ENP elephants are more "free"
In the majority of cases, the nails and pads of the “family group” and two adolescent male elephants were healthier than that of the other elephants who spend less time engaged in the natural behaviors of grazing and moving throughout the habitat. Allow the elephants to spend more time off chains to allow for natural posturing and movement, which has a direct impact on the wear pattern on their pads and nails. (Carol Buckley)
One person I met that day at ENP was Karl Cullen, a long term volounteer at the park, and we had some correspondence later, and I gave him pictures I have taken, which are to be seen on his blog.
To your question as to whether the elephants at ENP are captive – of course they are. I don’t think anyone would say otherwise. The elephants at ENP spend at least 14 hours a day in their shelters on chains, and when off chains are restricted by the boundaries of the park and the proximity of other elephants, all of which is regulated by the mahouts. I often described my job as a prison guard, as that was often the role that had to be played. Any elephant not in the wild is a captive elephant. Simple as that, and I don’t think there is any other way to look at it. And this is not a criticism of anyone, or of ENP it should be clearly understood – but in all my time involved at the park it always surprised and sometimes frustrated me that people used words such as “freedom” and living a “natural life” in relation to the elephants at the park. The chains are hardly hidden and anyone can see the elephants chained up there by 5 in the afternoon and watch them get released before 8 in the morning, and yet there were many volunteers who sometimes stated that it wasn’t until later in the week that they even realized the elephants were chained. There is a strange inability in all of us to sometimes see what is right in front of us, once an idea has been planted in our minds. Particularly if it’s an idea that we dearly want to hold onto. This is a big stumbling block to elephant welfare – and many other issues of course – so I would say that one of the most important things we can do, which don’t take any time or money – is to simply allow ourselves to see what is actually right in front of us. To let go of any pre-conceived notions that act as a filter, and just see what is!
I wrote him in again in May 2013, but never had a reply, and later found out that tragically he had died, 38 years old, and his family dont want to have questions what happened Medical and health issues
Apart from that it is obvious, with the present lack of professionalism and animal welfare in the parks management methods applied, to perform professional medical examination, foot care etc, I was asking myself, what the reason was for the extreme dry skin and foot problems were, and I think I have the answer; The mudpool.
Mud pools has been a popular component in elephant zoo enclosures lately. I also thought they were good until I learned about the skin problems they may cause sometimes: The mud acts like a sponge, when wet it can give moisture to the elephants skin, but when dry, it TAKES moisture from the elephants skin.
In the shadow in a rainforest, with a high relative air moisture, this is no issue, but an open, sun exposed and dry desert like area like the Elephant Nature Park, the mud dries in short time, and starts to dry out the skin.
This can easily be seen at elephants at ENP, especially since they don’t follow wild elephants routines for bathing; early morning, and late evening, in order to give adventure for the visitors and volunteers, the elephants are taken several times to the river in bright sunlight, so the visitors can have something back from all the dollars they paid, and have their memory for life, when they were communicating and playing with an elephant.
The green area on the other side of the river, and the mountains frame the elephants well, and make this look like a beautiful place for elephants, but the other , greener, side of the river doesn't belong to LEK, or ENP, the elephants are not aloud to that area, they remain the semi desert area, and its unknown if seeing those areas on distance really make them happier. But for the human eye, it may look like a paradise, since we enjoy a beautiful view, and sometimes we can enjoy mediocre art because it has a beautiful golden frame.
Many volunteers want to place their hands on the trunk and experience "understanding" of elephants,and feel the "love" from the exploited animal, after stuffing them full with tons of sugar rich fruits like bananas, pineapples oranges, melons etc. Many of those elephants seldom see a twig or branches, suffering from tooth problems and similar problems related to the false diet. On average, some 20% of Asian elephants may carry Tuberculosis, which may be the elephants gift back to the volonteers and their boyfriends, children and their families, after their loving abuse of "hang-around-elephants/mahout-for-a-week/make a change: stuff kilos of pineapples into elephants.
And after the bath some of the elephants are taken to the mud pool.
The elephants are following their instincts, and play in the mud, and apply it on their skin, where it dries up fast in the sunlight, resulting in dried up skin, which can be seen easier and clearer on tails, areas above the nails, and temporal areas. The picture of the tail below, illustrates this, it’s completely dried out.
In western zoos, tails like this most often get treatment; on the next picture I apply vegetable oil on a tail in order to help the skin.
It may also be food related, and later I will discuss issues I experienced at ENP regarding the elephant’s diet.
The visitors and volunteers pay large sums to stay at ENP, and of course there’s a demand from them to have their memory for life, feeding, washing and picture elephants. Therefore, the elephants are washed several times daily, even if it dries out their skin.
The intensive bathing, and mud bathing after each bath, has an opposite effect on elephant’s skin than what laymen expect; it dries out the skin in a dry desert like environment as Elephant Nature Park.
Below is picture of pretty bad kept feet: Overgrown nails totally dried out skin on the feet, probably also fungus. This elephant was not a newcomer, and there’s no reason for an elephant to look like this, in a location that gets more than 10. 000 dollars a day, and tells the world that all other places are bad?
Click on the picture to enlarge
The picture shows extremely dry skin, and dry areas above the nails. The nails are extremely overgrown, so much so they are beginning to get deformed in shape, and most probably have abscess. The area above the nails is very sensitive, filled with sweat glands, if they get to dried up, and stop work; the result will often become an abscess, which later moves down in the foot and create large problems for the elephant.
Here is an ENP elephant with fat untreated abscesses in ALL 4 feet:
This elephant, I was told later, died within two years after my visit. If she would have been brought to the Elephant hospital in Lampang, Im sure they would have been able to cure her within six months.
An elephant at the hospital in Lampang gets professional treatment for foot problems, by Thailands most famous elephant Veterinary, Dr Preecha Poungkam, who I know since my visit to the government elephant training center in Ngao, back in 1988, and visited him again in 2011, taking this picture in the Elephant hospital in Lampang. I was also happy to initiate the support of Mrs Soraida Salwala, Dr Preecha, and the elephant hospital in Lampang, during my years as chairman for the Swedish organisation "Defend the elephants". I have no idea why Lek Chailert don't "trust" this place...
But one reason may be, that no elephant experts in Thailand, orThai veterinar or Thai officials, support the ENP elephant management.
This is a picture of the elephant Sri Prae and her newborn daughter Navann, born 2012-10-28.
Sri Prae arrived at ENP 2010-11-03 and there is no excuse whatsoever for the bad nails on the right font foot. Regarding the left frontfoot, as a previous mine accident elephant, she should have been provided not only normal foot care, but also intensive medical treatment, preferably at the Lampang elephant hospitals
Here I have filmed an elephant with foot abcess in Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Thailand. Unsuccesful attempt to treat foot abcesses in all four feet on an elephant in an "Elephant sanctuary" in Thailand. Elephant hooks are officially prohibited, why the control of the elephants by the mahouts is radically reduced, resulting in almost no existing medical care of this, and other suffering elephants in the sanctuary.
The film 1 and 2 shows an unsuccessful attempt by a veterinarian to treat foot abscesses in all four feet on an elephant in the park. The mahout could help the vet in one second, but the mahout is not allowed to use an elephant hook…
Elephant hooks are officially prohibited in ENP, why the control of the elephants by the mahouts is radically reduced, resulting in almost no existing medical care of this, and other kind suffering elephants in the sanctuary.
On the film number 3 you can see how ignorant the elephant is of Lek's presence. This is not love, but simply disrespect
ENP elephants poor foot condition has also been discussed by Carol Buckley at http://www.elephantaidinternational.org/pdf/ENP_Report2011.pdf:
"The majority of the elephants had severely overgrown nails and pads. In some cases the pads were deeply decayed and nails had chronic splits. Most had deep decayed crevices between and under their toenails. The overgrowth is a result of lack of sufficient exercise to wear pads and nails." and "Elephants who spend all day standing in one area with little activity except for short trips to the river for the visitor bath interaction, have seriously overgrown and decaying nails and pads.
Due to a lack of basic foot care, the elephants share common conditions. With few exceptions, this group of elephants has serious foot health issues including:
grossly overgrown and decayed nails and pads chronic nail splits severely overgrown, cracked and dry cuticles bacteria growth in the pads and nails and between the toes foot and nail abscesses deep pitted and rotting pad cracks stones, pieces of wood and metal objects embedded in the nails and pads The advanced degree of the decay seen in the majority of feet trimmed is harmful to the elephants, causing pain and lameness. Left untreated, the foot infections can become systemic and even life threatening.
On the positive side, Lek did let me get an insight in the records of elephants, which I went through, assisted by the American guide Jodie. But I started to feel alarmed, when I learned that the total turnover, as told to me, was over 70 elephants, that had lived on EEP .
Contrary to other institutions who provide me records, for my website www.elephant.se, where I keep the largest elephant database in the world, there was also, for some reason, reluctance to let me know where the elephants came from, when transferred to ENP, a lot of them were bought "from a camp further along the river", but Jodie didn't want me to know which?
Elephants were also transferred hence and forth between ENP and the neighbor camp, owned by Leks family, as well as with other camps around, and (cite):
The Park has different means in helping elephants and one of them includes allowing owners to bring their elephant to the Park for free food and healthcare.
This means that the exposure all the present elephants have had with other elephants dramatically increases risk of transfer of infections and diseases like Tuberculosis.
Theres an extreme physical interaction between ENPS elephants and the visitors and volunteers in the camp. A google search for: "elephant nature park" elephant kiss gets 53,600 results…
The best trick was a sweet elephant that gave kisses.
She would press her trunk up against your cheek and give you a big wet smooch, complete with the kissing sound... (Source)
Unfortunately many women wants to kiss what they like, and often try to make their children do the same. But this human behavior can be very unhealthy and risky.
No information or warnings whatsoever is provided for the guests in regard to that many elephants suffer from lethal diseases, transferable to humans, of which TB or Tuberculosis is the most common.
TB is airborne and spreads through tiny droplets in the air. Symptoms of TB: chronic weight loss, diminished appetite, chronic nasal discharge, coughing, and intolerance to exercise, and abnormal volumes of drinking water.
It is not known if ENPs elephants have been tested (by anyone) for Tuberculosis, but no official records state they were tested by officials.
No official record of TB-testing
One of Thailand’s most well-known specialists on TB, Taweepoke Angkawanish, wrote me 20th of May 2013: “They used to ask me the possibility to do the test, but after that I have heard nothing.”
It is totally irresponsible to let foreign tourists play around with the elephants as they are allowed to do now at ENP, especially when the Camp owner has received an honorary degrees PhD in Sustainability and Conservation in 2002, and a PhD in Veterinary Science Rajabaht Chiang Mai University in 2006.
How easily is TB spread between humans and elephants?
“At the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, USA, they took in two elephants that were known to be infected with TB in 2004. They were handled as per USDA Guidelines for the Control of Tuberculosis in Elephants (yes, such a document exists). One died of TB and the other was later released from isolation after treatment, according to the guidelines. In 2006, they took in eight more elephants from the same facility. All were considered high-risk for TB and were tested annually.
After being notified of the 2009 human TB test results, Public Health personnel launched an investigation. They eventually determined that 9/46 people whom they were able to contact had positive TB skin tests during the 2006-2009 periods, despite having negative tests before then (confirming that they were truly exposed during this period). The strange thing was that it wasn't only the people with prolonged, close contact who were infected. People who worked in the quarantined area in 2009 were significantly more likely to be positive, but of the 13 people that worked in the quarantine area, only one had close contact with any elephant. Furthermore, three of the people who were infected were administrators, working in a distance office building.”
An elephant at Elephant Nature Park with eye conjunctivitis.
Compared to an elephant trekking camp where the tourists sit in a saddle far away from the trunk, the interaction between tourists and elephants at Elephant Nature Park is much more intensive, and with large risks of transfer of Tuberculosis from elephants respiratory organs and trunk the tourists.
Since there is no tourist riding operations with the elephants at ENP, the hand feeding of the elephants is much more intensive in other places, with increased risks for transfer of diseases like Tuberculosis. Meanwhile, the veterinary treatment seem to be very poor, or almost absent.
Often they are served all fruits by a bar, by the westerners, standing on a ramp, having pictures taken. Not having an idea which various bacteria's the elephant may have in their trunk.
This was called elephant public feeding in Zoos, and was mostly prohibited during the seventies, of medical and behavior reasons.
Elephant public feeding is a lot of fun for the feeders, but also creates wrong behavior patterns, for the elephants that in the wild search for food 16 hours/day. Elephants know how to eat themselves, they dont need to be hand fed. Both humans and elephants can carry diseases which are effectively spread by contact between the hands and the trunk, and the naive tourists.
Again, Carol Buckley seem to agree with me on this point:
Recommendations: Mahouts and the public should be taught a healthy respect for elephants and visitors should not have direct contact with the elephants (Source)
"Love" instead of a medical program, and a doctor
When I was listening to a heavily tattooed american woman, acting as guide, an unusually clever visitor asked if one of the most invalid elephant was suffering, she said,
"Oh no, not anymore, she knows we love her",
That elephant, on the picture below, belongs in a hospital, or even should even maybe be euthanized.
Pain and suffering, but no hospital doctor
I ask myself if any of the elephants gets any traditional pain-killing treatment? Elephants with broken legs and hips, not getting qualified veterinary treatment, should at least get the comfort of pain-killers, which are not too expensive... But the guide didn't mention anything about this, only "love". Whatever an old, suffering elephant understands from that, being exhibited for thousands of people every week, in order to bring an income to the owner...
Handicapped, malnutritioned, suffering elephants that had different kind of accidents, are more valuable, since the visitor "feel" more when then they look at them. An angry, healthy elephant that doesn't want to be kissed is not as attractive as a suffering one, that maybe would have been euthanized in a zoo. People enjoy looking on suffering animals especially if they can "help" those animals. To strengthen their identity, they want to believe that they are helping.
Trade in disabled elephants
Most populair sanctuaries buy or rent their handicapped elephants, but the term "buy" is not used, those elephants are always referred to as "rescued". (Political labels again...)
Such elephants are perfect for sanctuaries, often handicapped, weak, in terrible shape, they dont display a normal healthy elephant behavior.
Often being more or less powerless, they are seldom aggressive, so just about anyone can approach them without a hook and have an experience of looking into their mind, understanding them, and other bullshit people think they are experiencing when they look deep into the eye of a suffering elephant, whos pain could be released with euthanasia. Such an elephant is a good investment
In any case, elephants with extreme medical problems, should be taken care of by qualified professionals with access to modern medical clinic, with all needed tools to help the suffering elephants, who are in fact, patients. Not by amateurs, who trade, exploit and exhibit them in order to fill their own bank account from oversee paying visitors.
Diet and food issues
Apart from this, elephants are not really fruit-eaters, and all those amounts of sugar, is not healthy, what they need is branches, that's why they have so large molars. Most Zoos feed plenty of branches today, while some circuses may still ignore the elephants need for wood with cellulose, Tannin and other essential elements elephants need from branches.
I asked Lek why she didn't supply the basic food for her elephants, since I didn't see one single branch during my stay, and her answer was that it was too expensive for her to get. This could have been the answer you would expect from a small, poor European circus, but an organisation that has a daily income of over 10. 000 dollars, should be able to spend some on the food for the animals generating this income?
When I went though the records of elephants with guide, she said that the latest death, an older female, died because of tooth replacement problems, something that is directly linked to when captive elephants doesn't get enough branches.
Elephants normally change their molars six times during their lifetime, when older molar gets worn-out, they get replaced horizontally from new ones. When the last supplement gets worn-out, they die out of starvation. (The "natural" dead-cause of almost all herbivoures, which doesnt fall prey to predators.) In some cases, the replacement is difficult, and the molar has to be removed. Increased daily supplement of branches over several months may solve the problem, othervise the molar has to be removed by a Vet. The removal of an elephant's molar tooth is always a difficult surgical undertaking, although it has been performed successfully on numerous occasions - From my website www.elephant.se
So, although at least one elephant had already died because of tooth problems related to eating a lot of soft fruits, but not chewing any strong branches, still the park couldn't "afford" branches...
As for the treatment of the elephant with abscesses, she seemed concerned, but not too much. She explained that she can't use hooks because if she would, her funding's would rapidly decrease. Which means that elephant had to suffer, in order to make her richer. Not OK to me...
On my question why she didn't send the most severe suffering elephants to an elephant hospital (there are several high-standard elephant hospitals, with very qualified veterinarians, in Lampang in Thailand) she replied that she didn't trust them. She also said that she had been thinking of establishing her own hospital on the grounds, on distance from the visitors, where mahouts could work with hooks. But I got the feeling this was not an immediate next step.
Probably she will spend more of her money on buying more elephants instead, which will bring more income, rather than invest in some quarters where the elephants could get adequate, professional, medical aid.
And concentrate her energy on making life more difficult for other elephant camps in Thailand.
A that time, I was still not so critical, but frustrated, and felt bad about some of her elephants.
Our conversation ended at a point when she accepted to buy a power washer, and let me show her mahouts how to use it for daily shower of the elephants, in order to improve hygiene and skin condition. (No, its not enough for them to stand in the river some ten minutes while volunteers throw buckets of water on them, a power washer is used in almost all Zoos today, in order to wash the elephants and rub their skin, a modern way of doing the classical mahout work, rubbing the skin with coconut shells for half an hour.)
She told me she would call me, once it was bought, and I was waiting three days in Chiang Mai, but in the end she never bought one. She let me waste three days, making me believe her lies.
That was the breaking point when I realized that she was not a stupid, ignorant and naive person, she's smart, and she can lie anyone in the eyes without concern, and make them believe that her elephants live some sort of paradise. And she obviously doesn't spend one penny if she don't have too, and if the visitors doesn't see that the elephants are poorly managed, she don't care if the elephants are suffering, or if she is hazarding their physical health, or her visitors safety .
She may actually be one of the worst example of the industry she's criticizing so much.
Something to keep in mind for the newcomers, young western people who copy her concept and establish their own elephant sanctuaries, reaching fame in short time, and getting donations from all over the world.
Lately, smuggle of baby elephants from Burma has been an issue in Thailand. Lek accuses many other camps from buying those elephants, according to Lek, kidnapped from their mothers and tortured with something she calls Phajaan. Visitors to the park must see this film before they visit the elephants, and they are told how all elephants are trained with this method. Afterwards, some 50% sign a sponsorship, and by this, she increases her income every day, by showing this film.
Read what Belynda Zolotto has found out about this "documentation" film.
DON'T BE FOOLED BY EMOTIVE ANTI-ELEPHANT TOURISM PROPAGANDA - PHAJAAN OR CRUSH
There are organisations and people out there that want you to believe and think there are 100's of crush phajaan torture training videos representing the cruel way in which ALL #elephants are trained in Thailand (wild and domesticated). I spent 3 days actually viewing them (it was difficult) and what I found was the SAME footage used in ALL those different videos.
The footage is filmed in the remote highlands of northern Thailand, west of the village Mae Jaem. Journos, photographers, PeTA and other interested parties were invited to witness this brutal centuries old ritual called 'crush' or 'phajaan'. This was organised by ENP (named Elephant Heaven at the time) in 2002.
How this was organised and planned in the first place should make one wonder.
A young female and a young male captured from the wild were put through this inhumane practice on separate days while the Westerners looked on documenting, photographing, and filming it - ENP & PeTA's emotive campaign to stop the traditional breaking of the wild elephant's spirit begins. You watch this video that looks disgustingly sickening and so blatantly cruel and downright torturous and you cant believe what you are viewing. Your heart aches (as did mine) for the poor wild young elephants that are and have gone through this. It has to stop! I 100% agree.
The video is going viral - our human emotion plays a big part, your emotions are outraged. The feeling one got from seeing this disgusting video, becomes a need to ensure your friends see it and feel what you felt. Everyone has to know about this cruelty that is inflicted on these young wild elephants, so you share and they share this new found knowledge about #crush/phajaan and ALL those wild elephants now working in tourism.
People write about it, people are talking about it, more videos are created using the footage, more photos are released, screenshots are taken from the videos to create posters etc all from that couple of days in 2002.
Now the Chinese whispers have set in - emotive headlines and photos, and general lack of peoples willingness to actually read detail or double check facts, because what they see and feel for some reason doesn't need any further investigation. The original information, all of a sudden is placed/branded on ALL and EVERY elephant in Thailand because in order to train an elephant it has been through this.
WRONG! So now from what began in 2002 about the phajaan/crush ritual for breaking the spirits of wild captured elephants to become submissive to humans in order for them to be trained has now been morphed into ALL and EVERY single elephant you see in Thailand. Especially if they are used for riding and painting and doing shows. This phajaan/crush technique is not necessary for domesticated elephants.
I have also noticed in the last 6 months some of the ppl who once used the words ALL and EVERY are now using the word "MOST". Lots of people realize if you see ALL and EVERY its a red flag and people are calling them out on it.
Not one person on this planet can use those words about training of Thai elephants, not an expert and certainly not a keyboard warrior.
The misinformed are misinforming others and now this morphed information has morphed into a campaign about anti elephant tourism.
Those involved in the beginning when it was about stopping the ancient cruel practice of breaking a wild elephants spirit will NEVER admit or try to clarify this because it has overtaken and helped their 2002 original campaign.
The Thai wild population depends on the Thai domesticated population to keep this species from becoming extinct - destroy elephant tourism, then one is fast tracking them into extinction.
Break it down and its as simple as that!
Again, I state, this crush/phajaan technique is not necessary for domesticated elephants.
So for those who say I need to do "research" about what really goes on with domesticated elephants in Thailand, and that Im ignorant or blinded by brainwashing and or that I choose not to see the truth; and that I should watch ALL those videos about phajaan/crush - think again and further your own research, but you will need to dig deep and sift through ALL that propaganda.
I challenge you to research the timeline of how the word spread about the "training" of Thailand's domesticated elephants and show me ALL those videos of different incidences of the breaking of young elephant's spirits that makes it "evidence" that this happens to ALL or even MOST.
The word 'phajaan' means divorce/separation. The true phajaan ceremony is used to give blessing and strength to the party/parties involved. Examples would be a married couple divorcing and want a ceremony to pray for strength to get through it; or a child leaving home to go and live far away will be separated from his or her's family; or an animal being separated from its mother; or a child going off to school. - Belynda Zolotto, 2016
Phajaan does not mean 'crush' or 'training' - it's a ceremony.
“Then, over the next few months, more signs.“I’ve been coughing up blood lately,” he says over a cigarette. “I need to stop smoking. My lungs hurt.”He even leaves one morning to go to the doctor, but decides to return to the office because the line is too long. “I have too much to do for work, I don’t want to wait in line for this,” he says, brushing off the urgency.“
A film, done by Lek herself? Numerous people have told me you can hear Leks voice on the film..
Was she present when the film was shot, not interrupting what was going on? And today claiming this is whats going on everywhere in Thailand, blaming innocent persons (the mahouts in Thailand) for something they don't even know they are accused for, and can defend themselves from?
Why is she doing that? And why did she participate in fim where mahouts are instructed to abuse an elephant? I guess there may be one possible option.
Lek Chailert and PETA were in court with the Thai government over the Phajaan video. She's not allowed to sell the DVD but can take a donation as payment or something. And some 50% of her visitors pay cash and becomes regulair donators to her business company, after seeing the film. Threat against species conservation
Through Leks ongoing critic against elephant ridings, performed by the Kui mahouts in Baan Ta Klang, and private elephant owners from Surin, who supply the elephants camps all over Thailand with riding elephants, she is also a threat against species conservation. If the Kui would loose their income from their elephants, they will most probably give up the breeding of elephants in Surin.
An animal rights activist, who dream about stopping elephant ridings in Thailand, may as well take an AK-47 and shoot one third of Thailands elephants, because the consequence would in both cases reduce the elephant population in Thailand.
Lek has joined the WSPCAs movement to stop elephant riding in Thailand. If this succeed, we will end up with some "sanctuaries" exploiting crippled elephants that naive people stuff tons of fruits into, while cative elephant breeding will become a memory from the past, resulting in a rapid local decline of the species.
I have also heard, that the "computer" at ENP has been the source of some trip advisor bad reviews for her competitors. tA has had to remove some bad reviews on their competitors, because it was source back to an ENP computer/ip address. (Anon) Smuggled elephants from Burma...
Contrary to what Lek Chailert and her boyfriend Darrik Thomson tells about elephant babies being smuggled in from Burma, and tortured, except for a few exceptions, all elephant babies in Thailand are captive born, a result from a lot of devoted work, and professional knowledge. The Kui people has a blooming captive breeding of elephants in Surin, but only as long as they get an income from their work. Its they who provide the next generation of elephants in Thailand. If their income would be taken away, chances are large that they would reduce, or stop their breeding of elephants, which would be the opposite what nature conservation is working for, in a situation where every single new born elephants counts.
But it seems that in reality, she is among the few that are in possession of a smuggled Burmese elephant, according to my source: “far mai or far sai . Something like that. Purchased from Surin as a baby after it was purchased from Burma by people in Surin”.
Faa Sai chasing a mahout on the ENP grounds.
About a week later, at the 26th of March, in Lampang, I had a meeting with three elephant experts, working in Thailand. We discussed different elephant issues in general, as well as the problems with Tuberculosis. At the end of the discussion Lek Chailert and ENP became a subject, and I was asked about mine impressions from the camp.
I was honest, and told about my anger and how disappointed I became over Leks reactons. I surprised myself with saying:
“I think some of the elephants should be confiscated from Lek. In Europe, they would have been, long time ago.”
The 20th of October 2012, I contacted Lek Chailert through Facebook and asked her some questions, but had no real answers:
Dan Albert Koehl to Lek Chailert:
I wish we would have talked more, I wish I could understand you. I wish I would feel safe that whatever you do is not for the money, but something you truly believe in.
Dan, What I do I never good to tell and I am not good for self promote. But I believed what my heart tells me, I believed what I do. My life it for animal, that I stay for that. My heart have no limit too love them, my heart it no boundary for animal. Since I work I have so much suffer from human who attacked me for some reason, but animal never do to me. They not want much from me only they just want plenty love and care, which is not too hard for me to do at all. They are the reason I want to stay for the long life to protect them .I have no children , why I need money for , I have not even my own house to stay , Park is my house and my happiness. I don't need no more. Thanks for understanding. Much love
22 nd October 2012: Dan Albert Koehl to Lek Chailert:
I believe you in this. Even though I became very angry when I visited you, I had problems being angry, because you are such a nice, wonderful person. And I do know you do so many good things, more than a normal person will ever do. Still, it seems that some things regarding your elephants, and their health and well being, get subordinate to a philosophy and a trend that comes from Animal Rights People in the west. Their hearts are not pure and clean, they make money on exploiting suffering animals and people’s feelings. A lot of that money comes into your pockets. At the same time, some of your elephants may need an intensive care which cannot be combined with the dreams of animal rights activists’ philosophy. Whenever we take care of an animal we must be professionals, and give it the best care possible, regardless of the fact, that laymen may be critical. I believe you must take this responsibility, even if the price will be that some people, who don’t know anything about elephants, will be angry. Your elephants deserve also a professional care, not just love on words, and love, in terms what stupid people can understand. Your elephants ARE your children. Children cannot just grow up with ice cream and chocolate. They must be well cared for, educated, etc. You know what I mean. I can see in your eyes that you are a very intelligent woman. How can you improve the care of your elephants, so they also get a scientific level of management, and that no professional can say that your elephants have bad skin, bad feet, and get wrong food? Those are very basic components in animal care. Laymen who come to visit you, don’t see this, they only hear the word LOVE. But you have money and resources to see to that your elephants look better than they do on a bad kept, poor circus. Why not start with this? It will do your heart good. You already know things are not OK, imagine how well you will feel, if you decide to run your place like YOU always wanted to take care of animals, not how romantic, naive people from overseas want you to run it? And I know that after all years, you know what your children need? Not just LOVE, but also professional care? I hope to convince you to look in your heart, and find the answer to this. OR even better, in your brain.
- But Lek never answered me on those questions... it’s the last time I heard from her, later she closed or Facebook friendship.
Leks present partner is Darrik Thomson, from Canada, who introduced himself as an animal rights activist, during my visit to ENP in 2011.
I had several dialogues with Darrik Thomson during 2013, but he also never gave an answer on my questions and critic of ENPs elephant management,
Once, when he made a Facebook share with an elephant baby happily laying in the sea, he made the classical animal rights activist remarks reg the elephant, mother had been killed, smuggled from Burma, went thorugh Phajaan, and now was abused in tourisms industry, the common propaganda intended to make people think they see something else than what they see on the picture, a happy, playing elephant baby.
I made some comments that this was not true, and Darrik joined the Facebook chat, and called me an elephant abuser. I replied by posting links to pictures I had taken at ENP, with an elephant with abcesses in all four feet. Heres the dialogue:
Dan Albert Koehl during my 40 years, that you refer to as abuse, I would never have seen this, neglected it, and let an elephant suffer like this. Never, and no collegue of mine neither.
Darrick Thomson We see this because this is how we received them you idiot !
Darrick Thomson We are a sanctuary, a retreat from abuse ! WE receive abused elephants ! and thank you for that..this is your work !
Darrick Thomson Are you so proud of this ?!
Darrick Thomson Arrogance of a highly limited species when there is no compassion !
Darrick Thomson just googled 'dan albert kohl' n got douchebag link..funny! Must be fan of CITES corruption n so much details, soon to be published
Darrick Thomson i am so proud to be an animal rights activist ! It is the best work that is happening in this world right now ! Everything turns on this dime ! Everything !
Darrick Thomson I show my workers how to turn 1000 pounds on a pebble..AR people, we are this pebble, and the world is ours !
Dan Albert Koehl at least I trained a number of elephants which the person who pretend to be expert on the topic, never did. And at least I treated and cured elephants with abcesses in their feet. Whatever I love is really not within your knowledge of reference.
Dan Albert Koehl you are googling the wrong name. spelling...
My last communication with anyone from ENP was in 9th of May 2013, when I asked Leks partner Darrik if they had tested their elephants,
Dan Albert Koehl:
Im interested to hear about your Tuberculosis situation at ENP.
1. Did you check all your elephants?
2. With which method?
3. Which veterinary or university did it?
4. What was the eventual outcome?
5. Can the documents be downloaded somewhere, are they publicly official?
6. What measurements has been taken since the tests and the analyzed material?
7. Can you guarantee your visitors health?
8. What actions has been taken?
9. Do you feel that it is important to inform the visitors to your camp about Tuberculosis and the risks when they have interaction with the elephants, or just stay at your camp?
10. Which test have you done with your staff, mahouts and others regarding Tuberculosis?
He avoided the questions, started to become rather unpolite, and blocked me from ENPs Facebook and some other places.
Thomson’s words below illustrates his replies very well:
I smile on you and I am sorry that you can only live out if that small space of hatred in your heart for 'animal rights' people. Almost everything you say is a twist on truth. Partial truths perverted for personal gains and still I smile. I am interested in your knowledge of our 'finances’. I wish that we had such success but as it is we move forward as we can..As for Cambodia, we paid nothing for that prospect and land use..We own nothing there but are just trying to secure a 'wild space for ele's and it is actually a beautiful space. I thought you would be happy, but once a critic always a critic. Our ele's there free roam grasses and trees and everything natural to them so your problem is?? And I don't actually care what your problem is because then it would seem like I care about your opinion. Luck t ya brother.
All of a sudden the statement below was to read on ENPs website:
Apart from that is doesn't really help to isolate an elephant, that most probably spread TB to the rest of the group, this gives a tragic insight in the owners limited knowledge in the lethal disease TB.
After my unsuccessful attempt to communicate with the owners, I started to make some research about the Parks economy, and what critics had to say, and try to make a history timeline for Lek and ENP.
From ENP website:
“Sangduen "Lek" Chailert was born in 1962 in the small hill tribe village of Baan Lao, two hours north of Chiang Mai. Lek received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Chiang Mai University and from there moved into working in the elephant tourist industry.” 1992
Lek claims that she, 30 years old, bought her first elephant, Mae Perm, in 1992.
Lek Chailert seems to have the oldest elephants in the world breaking records of all documented old elephants in the whole world, by far: “At age 89 (2013), Mae Perm is still fully enjoying a well-deserved peaceful life at the park.”
It’s also extraordinary, that this elephant, being the oldest elephants on earth (which is of course not true!) , looks like she is in her fifties. Remarkable, but maybe there’s a fountain of youth at ENP?
Regarding Mae Perm, she doesn't look that old, she is in extremely good condition, and so would have had a pretty good life, so rescued from? (Anon) 1995-1996
One source says:
“She operated the tour company at that time, Gems Travel at the night bazaar in Chiang Mai.
On Wikipedia is written: Lek and her husband Adam founded Elephant Nature Park in 1996.
But it seems, in reality that she founded Elephant Heaven Nature Park 1996, together with her family who was, and still is, involved in this camp, which is today known as her neighbor camp, now named Mae Teang elephant camp,
Later with boyfriend Paitoon, who changed his name to Poppol and is present owner of the restaurant Huan Hoy Kaew, on the way to Doi Suthep, she owned the elephant camp Jungle Raft. She had an Irish boyfriend later, and the Irish guy helped her a lot. Later, until she found her present place, she started to use the Internet. On her website she had a shop; she sold t-shirts, elephant paintings, food for elephants, first aid for elephant, and the “Million dollar Baht for ultrasound donation project”. She collected money from people, without doing the things she said she would do for the money. But later she destroyed every evidence”
For a number of years Lek Chalert rented or bought, healthy elephants used as tourist riding elephants. But she had problems to compete with larger camps, who had been in the business longer.
Charles Bagley was there at the beginning when the people rode elephants. In fact him and his wife rode some elephants from central Thailand to Leks Not sure where they started the journey but it took like 2 months or something. Cant remember the details and then they lived at the park for a while like 2 years or something and people who came always rode the elephants.
The only reason they dont have rides anymore is because the safety aspect would have become difficult and then she got involved with the ARS. (Anon) 2001
Scott Murray writes in January 2001 on http://www.scottmurray.com/maetang_elephant_park.htm
“The park was started five years ago by the five Chailert sisters: their aim being to stop the elephants from being used for logging and to get them off of the streets of the cities. They took a simple rice paddy and transformed it into a beautiful park, which is now home to fortythree elephants and their handlers. The mahouts sleep in bamboo huts or hammocks besides the elephants.”
Lek bought the new land for The Elephant Nature Park in 2003.
On Wikipedia is written about Elephant Heaven Nature Park:
This location was closed in 2003 as the Elephant Nature Park opened. 2006
Lek Chailert had no problem with tourists riding on elephants, as seen on this picture with a young woman, who is described as Thailands only female mahout, when staying on Elephant Nature Park during two weeks.
Along with some Brits, Canadians, a few too many Americans, Kate and I are spending 2 weeks building muck holes, shoving up to 60 kilos of pineapples into that trunk, and generally being holier than thou animal friendly crusaders fighting for the good of the common Asian elephant. Our biggest contribution though is money, 60 kilos is a lot of pineapple to purchase, but also we are here to spread the word and that's what I'm doing now. So rich foreigners who like to read blogs, come to Northern Thailand and visit this elephant nature park. If you can't make it this year, make sure you're all superior at the next dinner party when someone brags about riding an elephant. (Elephant woman, from the blog
She was also still working as Travel agent in 2006:
Gem travel were involved till at least 2007.
An elephant baby was separated from its mother and bought to Elephant nature Park, only some 48 hours after birth. She died after two weeks, traumatized and out of anorexia. This was exposed for some time on ENP website, and later removed. 2009
The death of Max
There are two stories of Max death, the official story told in a ENP newsletter 2009:
“As was expected, Max did lay down that night. In the morning he tried valiantly to get up on his feet, but his legs just didn't have the strength to do what he wanted them to do. We just couldn't put him through the indignity of being pulled up by the crane yet again, knowing how much pain he was in when standing and knowing when he laid down again we would be back in the same predicament.”
This story in poetic terms, presenting the death of a beloved elephant, is challenged by a second:
“I believe they (vets from TECC) anesthetized him because he had a long term infection in his tusk socket and he was down. and they went to put the retro activating agent in him (after they had treated the infection and the volunteers that were present protested as they said he should wake up naturally and the vets were intimidated and so did not dare to cross the angry visitors. He was under to long and ended up dying i guessed they used a heavy dose as he was a large bull.”
“But much to our surprise, a project with similar intentions sprung up in a nearby Karen village. Before our project could get up and running, Tong Taes owners decided to join with the other project which is now known as the Elephant Vet Aid Outpost (EVAO). As the months passed we received bits of information from various individuals regarding Tong Tae; he had been separated from his mother, his training had gone badly and he was now very aggressive but he was also afraid of everything. We felt so sad hearing about Tong Tae, but there wasn’t anything we could do- the owners had made their decision..
Finally on July 26th 2010 the owner called us and said that he would like to join our Journey to Freedom Project. We were so happy to hear this, but the happiness was short lived as on July 28th he called back to cancel. His reason for this was that he felt that if Tong Tae stayed with us he would become spoiled and uncontrollable because of the freedom that he would have. The owner felt that he would forget what he had learned (sadly, we have heard this in the past from other owners). After that we didn’t hear much about Tong Tae until our staff saw him chained on the side of the road with a banner from the EVAO, obviously trying to attract business. He looked hungry and stressed and had lost a lot of weight since we had last seen him, it was a really depressing sight. The next time a group of volunteers went to our Journey to Freedom Project and saw Tong Tae out on the road again; our staff stopped and asked the owners if it was ok to bring food for him.” Finally on July 26th 2010 the owner called us and said that he would like to join our Journey to Freedom Project. We were so happy to hear this, but the happiness was short lived as on July 28th he called back to cancel. His reason for this was that he felt that if Tong Tae stayed with us he would become spoiled and uncontrollable because of the freedom that he would have. The owner felt that he would forget what he had learned (sadly, we have heard this in the past from other owners). After that we didn’t hear much about Tong Tae until our staff saw him chained on the side of the road with a banner from the EVAO, obviously trying to attract business. He looked hungry and stressed and had lost a lot of weight since we had last seen him, it was a really depressing sight. The next time a group of volunteers went to our Journey to Freedom Project and saw Tong Tae out on the road again; our staff stopped and asked the owners if it was ok to bring food for him.”
Another angle of this story gives different information:
Tong Tae stayed at ENP until December 9th 2009, when he was taken away WITH his mother. They had to be forced off the property by the mahout/owner as they didnt want to leave. It took almost two hours to get them on the truck and the screams and roars could be heard throughout the valley) and sent back to his owners village of Heuy Pak Kood. After being reunited with his mother for only a few months, Thong Tae was trained in April 2010 to live alongside humans at the village in the traditional Karen method.
Lek Chailert and ENP cause problems for other elephant camps in Thailand
luckyarturo wrote on March 28, 2011 http://macnchis.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/chiang-mai-thailand-part-iii-final-the-elephant-trade/
“Their curriculum at ENP is clear-cut. They show a revolting video shot of trainers trying to break an elephant’s will. I haven’t seen it, I imagine it is revolting. So powerful emotionally that the next message that follows is apparently instantly embraced.. Elephant businesses in Thailand are cruel and unethical. Now I haven’t heard her delivery myself, but it seems other operators in Thailand have, including Pat, and it burns. There are first-hand examples of this, a good friend in NY went to ENP and when relaying to me her favorite parts of her trip, made it a point to warn me to go to ENP and not to anyone else because what they’re doing is torture. Echoed by a French couple I later met in Chiang Mai, shaking their heads with disgust for operators outside of ENP – “riding elephants is cruel,” they said. Whatever Lek’s message is, she’s succeeded in making herself out to be the shining angel/savior, and all others to be greedy detestable villains. A victory sold on manipulation?
Lonely Planet is on her side, ENP is featured as the place to go for interacting with elephants – if your morals are up to Harvard standards (In fact, ENP is the only sanctuary Lonely Planet lists of all the operators here.”
Elephant nature Park was visited by officials, which led to major protests from animal rights activist from all over the world:
An even greater furore erupted when the Government decided to try and check the paperwork of every captive elephant in Thailand and the credentials of those who make money from them, as there is still no elephant camp licensing system this included asking for land ownership or lease documents from Phuket to Chiang Mai and, as far as I can tell, a visit by one or other relevant authority to every commercial elephant camp in Thailand.
This lead to multiple visits to certain camps (some of whom loudly protested that the fact they lacked paperwork, had failed to follow the law, should be ignored as they are obviously on the side of the angels - ironically, having failed to follow the relatively simple laws already in place some then marched on Parliament calling for tougher laws), camps without campaigning friends had their unregistered elephants and land taken, our friends at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre were suddenly handed, without the chance to quarantine and choose, fifty plus elephants without mahouts or extra funding; just told to care for them.
One that had arrived with tetanus died and the furore erupted again, the owner of the elephant (despite photographic evidence to the contrary) claimed she’d handed over a healthy, fat, loved & cared for elephant, another that arrived with tetanus, others that had come with other diseases, were cared for in a Herculean effort by the TECC vets and recovered. But those who love a furore (particularly those with access to the furore creating blogs and petitions) screamed about the Government centres being nothing short of death camps for elephants. (Source: Blog of John Roberts, Anantara elephant foundation)
Lek Chailert has managed to get land in Cambodia where she has started a new project,
"In 2012, they got 10,000 hectares (which is 25,000 acres) (2.45 acres is 1 hectare or 10kmx10km). According to sources she paid 12 million dollars for the concession. The land seems to be risky for elephants, in a zone with a lot of landmines…" (Anon)
On the website of her “The Save Elephant Foundation” http://www.saveelephant.org/angkor_wat_wildlife_sanctuary.html
is written that she is working in collaboration with and The Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary.
On the website http://www.cambodiawildlifesanctuary.com I found the email of the Deputy Director, Mr David Casselman, and wrote him to ask about the details their cooperation, but the email was returned with the text: “Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:
David@cambodiawildlifesanctuary.com Technical details of permanent failure:
Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the server for the recipient domain”.
On the website http://www.dtravelsround.com/2013/01/27/rescue-elephants/ is written:
“we are on a mission: to rescue two female elephants from their lives of work and deliver them to freedom at Save Elephant Foundation. Further text includes “Her previous life was in a small village which used to have 100 elephants. She is the last one. Because of inadequate (read: non-existent) veterinary care, each elephant has been chained up when they have gotten sick and left to die”
100 elephants died, really? Does anyone really believe that 100 elephants died in the village of Phum Kaepleng because of inadequate veterinary care? For certain, during my visit to Phum Kaepleng, no one told me that 100 elephants died there.
No further specific explanation what those elephants were “rescued” from, or anything indicating abuse of the elephants, bad health or likewise. “On pictures taken before and at the time of the transport, they looked healthy, and with good nails and feet.
The hanging stomach on this picture may indicate ventral edema, otherwise feet and nails seems to be in good condition..No obvious skin wounds from the saddle, and skin looks OK in general sense.
“Arun Rea has plumped up since she was brought to the sanctuary by Save Elephant Foundation. She very healthy now.”
How will they look, one or two years from now?
I visited Katieng waterfalls and Phum Kaepleng in February 2013, and had first-hand information about the selling price: 19 000 dollars for one, and 23 000 dollars for the other.
Before this, an elephant in Cambodia could be bought for 12-15 000 dollars. Lek’ s money talks, in the future it’s probably only she who can afford to pay for the elephants for sale in Cambodia, since she has created an inflation in short time.
There are still two riding elephants at the Katieng waterfalls, and you can see on the picture below, which I took, they have no obvious health issues, there is no need for a “rescue”. But Lek had already showed interest for those two...
Lek always avoids to say that she buys and sells elephants, she prefer, as many sanctuaries does, to use terms like “rescue” which is a political way of manipulate people that she is doing something noble, when the truth is that it is her business. For each elephant that Lek rescues, her income from donations increases, and so does the income from increased number of volunteers.
She has also made a bid of 30 000 dollars each for two adult bulls in the Ratanakiri province.
If she purchase that bull in Phum Kaepleng (where she stated there’s no more elephants after she bought the two females), or another bull I saw in Borkao, east of Banlung, which she also made a 30 000 dollar bud for, and she intend to manage the bulls with same methods as at ENP in Chiang Mai, I believe there will soon be a death accident with people at her place in Cambodia..
It’s extremely important that adult bulls are managed by longtime trainer, any change of mahout will lead to unnecessary suffer for the bull, and death risks for the new mahout.
“Here, at Elephant Nature Park, looking after an elephant is a mostly hands-off affair. There is no riding the elephants (except for Hope) and no bull hooks. The way we see it, our mahouts should be listening to the elephants, NOT the elephants listening to the mahouts.” Cite from http://www.saveelephant.org/blog/meet-the-mahout-elephant-nature-park-medo/ where the chaining points can be seen.
On this picture with the bull in Phum Kaepleng, you can see the conditions where the elephants lived, a good environment for elephants along the Serepok river. If Lek wants to manage a healthy, strong bull like this bull, (who has lived with his owner in Phum Kaepleng in Ratanakiri all his life), like she manages her elephants at Elephant Nature Park, I believe that it will end very sad.
It seems the elephant was lying on the side in the sand for several days. No signs of slings etc to raise the elephant up. In the comments and the text is no veterinarian mentioned:
2013.02.01: “Ten mahouts help to hush Kwanjai up but cannot. We will try again later”
2013-03-02: “This morning we tried again but she still cannot. She even not help us to lift her head.”
There seem to be no tractors in Thailand, and ENP seem to lack tools and vehicles to even be able to raise a lying elephant into standing position. But Kwanjaj later got a lot of flowers spread over her dead body. Critical voices
Organisations that has terminated their support of Lek Chailert:
Carol Buckley describe numerous issues at ENP, including wrong diet, bad feet and medical condition etc.in the document: FROM: Carol Buckley, Founder, Elephant Aid International, USA TO: Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand Elephant Foot Care and Mahout training provided by Elephant Aid International: Summary of Services Provided, Outcomes and Recommendations: http://www.elephantaidinternational.org/pdf/ENP_Report2011.pdf
“Do you know about the charities that started in support of Lek and have closed down changed because she is a liar. http://www.eleaid.com/ Although this website seems to be active they dont seem to have done anything for years. Chad Begley came to see us and told us why he suspended the charity. Because Lek was increasingly manipulative, deceptive and a liar. You could try contacting him to get the information as me giving to you is hearsay. Also did you ever contact Linda Reifschnieder? she set up a charity for Lek in the USA (eleaid is in UK) and she got fed up with Lek as she would make Nature Park a foundation so she folded the charity and made Asian elephant support foundation http://www.asianelephantsupport.org/ How much they are prepared to tell you I don’t know but it would look bad for her. And who knows how many other places have left her. Apparently she is good at alienating her supporters due to her huge ego.”
I wrote to Rachel Begley in May 2013, and asked why they cancelled their support of ENP:
Dear Sirs, I have been told that you hve cancelled your previous suport of Lek Chailert, is this true, and can you provide me with details? Im doing a documentation on ENP
And she answered:
Thank you for your message. Unfortunately however it is not our policy to disclose reasons behind our decisions to support or cancel support of specific projects. However, if you have any particular issues that you wish to discuss, please get in touch.
Kindest Regards and sorry I cannot be of more help (Rachel Begley) Citations from Tripadvisor
Upon arriving there, I was disappointed in the way animals are treated, not showing the slightest interest in them, rather than as a tool to make money. Too commercial unnatural, very fake.
Pay 75 € for watering elephants and see a horrible movie is not likely to meet us ... The concept does not correspond at all to what we can expect from a center that has undoubtedly things to show ... outside the single concept of saving money ...
We heard about this place as a haven for elephants and we find something like a circus. The visits are organized for groups of tourists, rather than participate in the daily life of elephants, are part of the show. The price, very expensive compared to the other activities in the area. No doubt you are doing a good job with the elephants but I found all too commercial and occasional tourist oriented. No repeat or recommend it.
Hey - I went a few weeks ago and had a bad time... I went for 2 days with my boyfriend and it was way too busy - they really packed us in. Only enjoyed the place in the evening and early morning when it was quiet.
The elephants seemed crammed in too - they were fighting with each other and guys hitting them with big sticks - I asked our guide why they were being hit and she told us it is normal....
Sorry to say that Sydney Girl is right. I normally only lurk on Trip Advisor but I was disturbed enough to feel that this needed posting,
I visited the Elephant Nature Park last week also on a personal recommendation and was shocked with what I saw.
There were about 40 people in our day group which was far too many. The platform was crowded with people and we couldnt hear the guide clearly a lot of the time. There were also at least another 20 long term people on the course and at feeding time it was chaos with people pushing each other out of the way to feed the elephants.
The elephants were wonderful and there were some good highlights watching them play but there were too many in a small space and lots of pushing and fighting between them. I was told by one course volunteer that the previous week one elephant had attacked and killed another which suggests there are too many animals in a small space. If an elephant can be killed there must be a risk to people when there are so many there.
My friend raved about the elephant nature park when he visited two years ago but I think he would be very disturbed at what it has become. It looked and felt every bit like a tourist trap.
Re: Elephant nature park
13 December 2007, 11:49
had some friends who went there last week on my recommendation. they didn't like it at all. similar comments to others such as overcrowding, too many people etc. they were also concerned about the treatment. although they didn't see any heavihandedness, they did notice a couple of elephants with large red welts on the areas where mahouts control the elephants with there steel hooked sticks.
overall they were disappointed.
Re: Elephant nature park
15 December 2007, 14:16
Perhaps you should come down from your high horse Emjay just because you have posted 2,500 times does not give you any more right to express an opinion.
3 people have posted that it was overcrowded, one of which you say you trust. Since all 3 posters have visited in the last month and you appear to have been there some time ago perhaps there is a possibility that there is some truth in their comments. All 3 posters also said that they had either been recommended to go to the Elephant Nature Park or had recommended it to other people so maybe things have changed at the Park. It does happen you know.
My motivation for posting was that if an elephant can kill another elephant at Elephant Nature Park and it is over crowded with visitors then there must be a risk to peoples safety. Surely this is something travelers have a right to know?
Re: Elephant nature park
18 December 2007, 12:06
I am glad that the Elephant Nature Park has responded to this thread and that they are taking steps to resolve the problems that they face. I hope they pay attention to the public safety aspects that hahave been raised but which were not specifically addressed by the post.
Reet, I regret that the thread has turned into an argument between us. It is quite clear that we both had very different experiences during our time at the Park. I can understand why you are so passionate in its defence and hope that you have an equally positive experience when you visit next year which I am sure you will report here.
I would like to deal with the main point in your last post that I am being ‘alarmist for no reason at all’. I do not see it that way. I work in health and safety and as a result find myself carrying out risk assessments as a matter of routine, an occupational hazard.
On our day at the Park the guide did give us a safety talk when we arrived but it was perfunctory and many people were not listening, as it was too big a group and they were excited by their first glimpse of the elephants. As the day wore on I began to feel that the talk had been inadequate. My uneasiness increased by the visible difficulties in controlling the large number of people, the behaviour of some of the people present and the number of elephants in a relatively small space. These were all observations I reported in my original post. The conversation I had with the course volunteer that an elephant had killed another was deeply worrying but our group as a whole was not informed by the staff even though it clearly has implications for peoples safety.
As you point out most of the above is opinion but as a health and safety professional I feel adequately qualified to state it and the elephant death is a matter of fact and one that should raise warning flags. If I was working and carrying out an inspection the Park would certainly have been instructed to take immediate action, institute an extensive independent risk assessment and put more adequate procedures in place.
Health and safety is based on the precautionary principle which states when we have a reasonable suspicion of harm we have a duty to take action to prevent harm whether the suspicions are empirically proven or not. I feel that this is certainly the case in this instant. I am aware that the H&S standards in Thailand are not anything like as rigorous as in the EU but when people’s safety is at a high risk they have an absolute right to be informed of the potential danger. There is nothing on the Elephant Nature Park website about risks, safety and procedures, the safety talk was, in my opinion inadequate and I feel perfectly justified in posting it here so people can make their own informed judgement
You ask ‘why not address your concerns directly with Elephant Nature Park, rather than getting on here and spouting off something like that.’ The fact is I did try to discuss these concerns with the guide towards the end of the day but he seemed indifferent and kept saying, ‘very safe, no problem’. Perhaps it was a linguistic difficulty, but it seemed to me he was more interested in directing people to spend money in the gift shop which was one of the main things that gave rise to my comment that it ‘looked and felt like a tourist trap.’ A cheap shot on my part? Maybe so, but I had no idea this thread would prove so contentious and give rise to such strong feeling. Perhaps I should have given my comments more thought. I have tried to address this lack on my part in this post.
It was not my original intention to post anything on Trip Advisor but on reading your instant dismissal of Sydney Girls post I wanted to reply to back her observations up. These were then given further weight by BKK. Perhaps I should have written a more thoughtful post in the first instance. I have now found myself in a debate which I never intended and it was certainly not my intention to offend merely to state an opinion which is why this forum exists.
As to posting positive things I have has a wonderful time in northern Thailand, visited some lovely places and met some wonderful people. I would love to post about them all but it will take an age and I have to return home on tomorrow.
I wish my visit to Elephant Nature Park had been closer to the experience others had but it wasn’t and I think I have now explained my reasons why. I hope to come back to Thailand next year and I am prepared to give the Elephant Nature Park another go if only to see whether what I experienced was an aberration or not. I certainly hope to find that from an H&S perspective there have been great improvements. If not I will have no problem in reporting it back here so that people can be warned of potential dangers to their safety.
…And then theres 10 deleted posts by Tripadvisor admins…
The latest from 22 October 2013 can be seen and read at http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g293917-d601884-r181910641-Elephant_Nature_Park-Chiang_Mai.html
“I booked the 1 day tour which advertises spending a day with the elephants, arriving at 9:30 and leaving at 5:00 and being taken around by an expert guide. We arrived at the park at 11:00, left at 3:30, and our guide, Bee, was by no means an expert. She gave us occasional details but nothing educational or of any real substance. Additionally, you don't spend a day with the elephants. In total we spent literally less than 15 minutes playing with them or feeding them. We walked out to watch them from a distance for about 20 minutes total, and the rest of the day you are told by your guide to explore, then left on your own. I would have been fine with that but you aren't allowed to leave the building so exploring is impossible! We sat around for hours in the midst of the other 150 or so bummed-out tourists there, hoping that an elephant would wander near the building so we could look at it. This place is not interactive AT ALL. It's closer to a zoo, but you can't go anywhere to look at the elephants you just have to hope that one wanders near the building. I agree with the mission of the place, but I don't understand why the tourists need to be there. We were also told that the place costs $250,000 US dollars to operate every year. If you multiply the 2,500 baht cost of admission by how many people come per day, the place could easily pull in 2-4 million US dollars per year! So I have no idea how the money is spent...we not only got ripped off but we wasted one of our few days in Chiang Mai! Huge disappointment.”
Yes, i think you are right, its about how much money they can make.
“In the middle of the night, I woke up to roars and what sounded like a T-Rex (not that I know what they sound like). It was startling and realized the sound was coming from the elephants. I had no idea that elephants could make such a noise. This continued throughout the night and once the elephants made noise, all 100 dogs started barking too. It really was a jungle-like experience. I thought I was in Jurassic Park. My companion met me at the lodge for breakfast and Lek greeted our group. Eager to learn about the roars from the night before, we asked Lek. Lek explained that two weeks earlier, locals brought an elephant to the Park to be taken care of. The Park has different means in helping elephants and one of them includes allowing owners to bring their elephant to the Park for free food and healthcare. Taking care of an elephants is extremely costly and most locals cannot afford the upkeep. The ENP staff knew this elephant was pregnant but they did not know how far along she was. Elephants have a gestation period of 22 months.
That evening, the elephant gave birth around 2:00am. The baby was stillborn. After her third miscarriage, the mother elephant sobbed throughout the night. The roars we heard were cries of pain and sadness. The other elephants tried to console her by staying by her side, but she only wanted her baby. Lek and the other park rangers removed the stillborn baby from the area and the mother continued to cry. It was heart-wrenching to listen to Lek tell the story. I couldn’t believe that the sounds we heard from the night before were cries from elephants. I’ll never forget that night.”
But no stillbirth is reported, and no professional I know, ever heard about an elephant roaring hours and hours after a stillbirth. For laymen, this must be a fantastic story that Lek told them”.
I wrote to Tripadvisor in June 2013, asking them:
I think that an advice for families to bring their children to interact with elephants at a place that had a very large turnover of elephants (over 70) throughout the years, has to be combined with a small warning, considering that an average of Asias elephants are spreading Tuberculosis. To be on the safe side, dont touch the elephants, dont feed them, and wear some sort of protection masks.
TB is an airborne lethal disease, which is classified as Zoonosis, it can be transfered from elephants to human and back.
The Elephant Nature Park of course, would like you to be believe that theres no TB risk, but they have never informed about the risk on their website, or asked veterinarys from Lampang or Chiang Mai to come and check their elephants. Learn more:
USA: According to page 21 of the APHIS manual on Guidelines for controlling TB in elephants: "It is essential that a post-mortem examination be performed on all elephants that die. The examination must inc...lude a thorough search for lesions of tuberculosis regardless of exposure status. Prior to any planned euthanasia of an elephant, trunk washes, blood for serology and any other ancillary tests should be performed regardless of whether or not TB is suspected. In this way, valuable data can be gathered to evaluate the efficacy of the current testing protocol. In the event of a sudden death, collect post-mortem blood and separate serum for other tests."
Iin USA today, 2 "elephant sanctuaries" are TB infected,
With all the best intentions to give families advice how to spend their vacation in Thailand, please at least inform about the medical risks.
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I hope this helps!
Jeanine TripAdvisor Support Team
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