Yoga teacher supporting elephants
A Taupo¯ woman has returned from her second visit to an awardwinning elephant rescue park in Thailand more committed to raising awareness of the plight of highly endangered Asian elephants at tourist attractions.
Yin yoga teacher Emma Scott spent a week volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, presenting the park owners with just over NZ $4000 raised from weekly yin yoga classes in Taupo¯. The early morning hourlong Friday classes started on the lakefront in January with all koha/ donations from participants going to the fundraising effort. Rhythm of Combat boxing gym in Nukuhau St also donated the use of its gym for classes in winter.
Emma says the park is funded through donations and volunteer visits and the Taupo¯ funds were gratefully received and will go where they are most needed. She says in the year since her first visit the park has gone from strength to strength with new outdoor openair concrete therapy pools for the elephants, more medical equipment and expanded facilities.
Emma says close to 100 rescued elephants of all ages are now living in the confines of the 280ha park. The shelter also houses rescued dogs and cats.
Emma says the popularity of elephants at Thai tourist attractions has soared since 1989 when it became illegal to use them for logging operations.
“Unfortunately, many tourists just want to ride an elephant or see them do tricks and operators are now capturing elephants from the wild.” She says elephants that are ridden or trained to do tricks and dance to music have undergone brutal breaking-in methods.
“They break their spirit by taking them from their mothers at a young age, beating them close to death and then feeding them up and looking after them so they are afraid and will co-operate.”
She says rescue centres like the Elephant Rescue Park offer tourists the option of getting close to elephants in a natural environment where their health and wellbeing aren’t compromised.
One of the newest residents, a 72-year-old elephant was being ridden by tourists just days before her purchase and relocation to the park, despite being malnourished and underweight.
“She needed assistance just to stand up but after five days on IV fluid she started to get up and about again,” says Emma.
The park is funded through a mix of donations and paid visits which range from day trips to overnight stays and seven-day visits for volunteers like Emma who want to work with the animals.
She says the chance to get close to the elephants without causing them any harm is incredibly rewarding.
“They are such an intelligent species with strong family connections.
“Some of the elephants can’t be approached because they are so damaged that they can’t be around other elephants or people. Others can be fed and it just feels amazing to be around them. A lot of them have seen many people and are very curious.”
Emma says her seven-day visit was a “total experience” that included everything from sorting food supplies for the animals to picking up elephant poo and doing general work. Volunteers can also attend a range of educational talks and seminars.
The park is run by Thai national Lek Chailert, recipient of several international conservation awards, and her Canadian husband Darrick Thompson. The couple are now focusing on buying additional land for more rescued elephants. In 2010 Lek was named as one of six Women Heroes of Global Conservation by the then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with a Time Magazine Hero of Asia award and a Ford Foundation Hero of the planet award. This year the park won a Responsible Thailand Award for animal welfare at World Travel Mart 2018. The couple’s elephant rescue efforts have also attracted Hollywood attention. A film/ documentary Love and Bananas presented by Hollywood actress Ashley Bell centres around the background and eventual rescue of one of the elephants, Noi-Nah, who still lives at the park. The documentary, which features Lek Chailert has recently been nominated for an Oscar.
Emma says every little bit of financial help counts. The fundraising Friday morning yin yoga classes in Taupo¯ are underway again and Emma is continuing her own efforts to educate people on behalf of the endangered Asian elephants.
Emma ismaking a return visit to the park in October next year. She says a few people have expressed interest in accompanying her.
Taupo¯ yin yoga teacher Emma Scott (right) pictured with Elephant Nature Park founder Lek Chailert during a recent volunteering mission to the park in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Emma Scott with some of the rescued elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.