This was one of my most memorable experiences of our trip.
The sanctuary and rescue center was founded by an incredible woman, Lek, who has won numerous awards and recognition for her work. Since 1996, she has been rescuing elephants from street begging, logging, and tourism. This is a sad reality for the majority of elephants living in captivity, as they are usually the main source of income for the mahouts who own them. The lives that these elephants have lead are heartbreaking. Many of them are disabled from permanent injuries, blind, or orphaned.
I did a lot of research to find a sanctuary that wasn't exploiting rescued elephants. Doing a simple Google search will provide you with links to tons of elephant sanctuaries and parks in Thailand. This is the only that rescues mistreated elephants from captivity and allows them to heal and to live out the rest of their lives roaming free on the 250 acre sanctuary.
There are currently 36 elephants that live here, each with their own mahout, or care taker. These elephants are never chained or hit with sticks/hooks (commonly used during elephant rides and other forms of elephant tourism); they are never subjected to tourist rides, jungle treks, or shows. They are given loads of love and respect. They live in self-chosen families, which usually consist of a mother, baby, nanny, and an additional friend or two. Friendships last a lifetime. A fun fact: They eat a lot: 100 kilos of fruit and 200 kilos of vegetation…a day.
In addition to their mission of providing a safe environment, the Elephant Nature Park, located in the Chiang Mai province, also has programs that focus on Rain Forest Restoration, Cultural Preservation, and Visitor Education. For more info, visit their website.