ELEPHANTS ARE AMONG THE MOST revered animals in the world. They are also among the most exploited — Asian and African elephants are endangered, and “domesticated” elephants have a particularly rough go of it. They are used for tourism, illegal logging, street begging, and circuses, and are often tortured in the course of their training.

The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a sanctuary for elephants rescued from these professions. I went there with my friend to volunteer — here’s what we saw.

All photos by Gaile Juknyte


Flower and her Mahout

Many elephants are used to give rides to tourists. But tourists don't realize that the elephants are often tortured in order to train them to carry people. They are mentally abused as well.


Mahout resting

Elephants that are trained are often forced to work long days carrying heavy burdens.


The Loner

The Elephant Nature Park is home to 71 rescued elephants. The park cares for them, and also serves as an educator to the public.


Monika watching the giants

The park is trying to expand so that it can rescue more elephants.



An elephant handler, or "mahout" is not a particularly respected occupation, and the park is working to change that. As such, the park hires not only the mahouts, but their entire families.


Lunch time

Volunteers at the park clean out their shelters, wash them, feed them, and bathe them. They leave with a one-of-a-kind experience, and hopefully a message to other tourists: no selfie or elephant ride is worth the physical and mental damage being done to these beautiful creatures.