As part of my internship my first task was to learn about the organization dynamics. I didn’t realize that the organization runs on a very large scale until I had a chance to be part of it. The very first and largest project that Lek manages is the Elephant Nature Park. Every week the park welcomes about 200 volunteers who come from all around the world to see and help the elephants. The program provides option of visiting the park for one day, overnight, one week or two weeks
As part of my internship I got to spend the first two weeks at the park. The first week was my learning curve and I followed the same schedule as other volunteers. Our daily activities included cutting corn , scooping elephant feces, preparing food, and bathing the elephants. This gives the volunteers a great way of appreciation on how much work and hours need to be spent to take care of these big animals.
In my spare time, I went for further exploration and connected with several coordinators at the park. I got a chance to interview Jodi Thomas who has been working for Elephant Nature Park for more than 10 years and has quite a lot of insight to the organization. We have discussed on how ecotourism is helping to support the local communities as well as preserving natural resources of Thailand.
With 65 elephants and high demand of visitors there are approximately 300 volunteers working for the sanctuary. Various positions are need to be filled from visitor guides to cooks. Most of the workers are from Thailand who come different provinces and the “mahouts” or elephant keepers are from Burma (Myanmar). It is hard for Burmese to find a job as they migrate without knowing any Thai. The organization on the other had encourages people to work them only if they choose to follow the rule of “no hooks” and “no rides”. Being a mahout is a very demanding job as keeper has to be around the elephant all the time, especially at the park where most elephants are injured and each mahout has to look after their elephants for visitor’s safety as well as elephant’s wellness.
Food for the sanctuary is bought locally as well. Each elephant eats 300-600pounds a day, so for each day 15tons of food is collected for elephants. Bananas, pumpkins, corn and tamarin are few of the favorite foods of elephants. Some of elephants have bad teeth because of their age so they need special food such as rice ball which another job for volunteers. With all the food for animals comes food for volunteers and workers as well.
Not only Elephant Park is home for elephants but also for many other rescued animals. The mission for the park is to rescue as many animals as possible without discrimination. The animals I have seen were rescued race horses, pigs, water buffalos, and many more.
There also a big dog shelter that has about 500 dogs and a cat kingdom with 200 cats. Volunteers are encouraged to adopt the dogs as they need home where everything arranged by the shelter coordinators. All animals at the park are vaccinated and treated at the veteran clinic located inside. Recently, the organization was able to buy an x-ray machine for elephants for better examination and health for their injuries.
As you can see the funding organization gets from volunteers goes to a lot of maintenance and ongoing construction.The park itself is 60 acres wide and is looking for further expansion to save more elephants.