We have been living in an elephant sanctuary. We wake to their trumpeting, feed them bananas. play with them in the river, and watch them behave like elephants. Our two weeks at the Elephant Nature Park have been packed with once in a lifetime experiences and plenty of hard work.
Turns out - it takes a great deal of effort by many people EVERY day to feed and nurture 35 elephants!
What have we been DOING during our time at the Elephant Nature Park?
Volunteers are divided into work teams and assigned morning and afternoon jobs for each day. An ENP Volunteer Coordinator (VC) is "in charge" of each group. Some jobs, such as cutting corn and picking lychee are off site and lunch is brought along.
Here is a somewhat abbreviated description of some of those jobs.
The Elephant Kitchen job starts with gathering many baskets of pumpkins and watermelon from the shelves, washing them in a big basin of water magnesium permanganate, and chopping them into quarters.
There are also a few baskets of watermelon that need to be peeled for the older elephants as well as bananas that need to be sorted into very ripe, ripe, almost ripe, and green. A great job for sensory relaxation is the peeling and mashing of bananas by hand for "banana balls", a special elephant treat. We also spent time extricating the seeds from tamarinds. Overall, a pretty light assignment and a great way to chat with fellow volunteers.
ALEX- Elephant Kitchen was my favorite job because it is cool to chop melons and pumpkins with a machete. It was hard unloading the watermelon truck but felt really good when the truck was empty. Mom says I can't play with my food so squishing bananas with my hands was awesome!
Elephants eat lots of corn! Every day, volunteers and staff harvest 300 bundles (stalks and all), load them in a truck, and deliver to the always hungry ENP residents.
Corn cutting was definitely our most physically demanding day. Our group left the park and were driven in the back of a truck about 45 minutes to a farm. We were all decked out in long sleeves and long pants as instructed. By 9am it was sweltering and there was no shade to be found.
We were handed machetes and set to work chopping down the stalks and making bundles. After about an hour we were told to gather up the bundles and bring them to the truck. The hardest part was carrying the bundles over 400 yards along a narrow strip of land in the middle of an irrigation ditch.
Fifteen trips back and forth gave me a brand new appreciation for folks who do this every day!
After loading the bundles in the truck we drove to yet another field, and after a break for lunch, started all over again.
The truck was filled to the brim with corn stalks and we all climbed on top for the journey home. Along the way we had to duck low branches and hold on tight over bumps but we made it back.
After we had showered off the grime, it was satisfying to watch the truck go around delivering corn to the elephants. I think they appreciated our efforts.
Well, what goes in must come out - so elephants poop quite a bit. Fortunately, their vegetarian diet means it is not nearly as smelly as one might think. It does, however require an army of shovel and wheelbarrow wielding volunteers to keep the place clean.
A bonus of this job is that while on poop patrol opportunities abound for elephant encounters.
Lychee are in season here and a big favorite of the elephants. Our job - collect them by the basket full and return to ENP. This was another adventure in the truck day and we had a grand time climbing trees and pulling down the fruit. We had lunch with a local family and played with an assortment of dogs. Overall, aside from dodging some wasps, it was a lovely day.
We also got to see a very unusual rainbow.
LEAH - It was really fun because I got to go up a ladder and climb into trees and drop the fruit into the basket. The lychee is delicious. I just wish the insects didn't like them too.
Elephants LOVE the mud! They use the mud pit as a way to cool down and as a natural sunscreen. Once a week, volunteers help maintain the water/mud level by getting in there with hoes and buckets. Our group heard the call of the mud and ended up in an all out extravaganza! Needless to say, Alex and Leah were part of the first wave of mud slingers!
We also planted banana trees, gathered rocks for making stone walls, cut bamboo poles, and an assortment of other odd jobs around the park.
Our Optional Jobs
The Elephant Nature Park is also home to 450 rescued dogs and about 200 cats. We especially loved playing with the kittens and puppies! There was always need for extra help with the dogs and cats so we tried to pitch in when we could.
An old residence is in the process of being turned into a home for some of the cats and we were told we could make whatever improvements we wanted. Other volunteers had already made great progress and we were inspired by some of their ideas. Noah took the ceiling down and we cleared away some of existing debris. Foraging through the scrap pile, we put together some cat friendly surfaces and activities. It feels good to have left something of ourselves behind.
Most of the dogs in the dog sanctuary were rescued from the floods a few years ago. There is a clinic on site and full time volunteers to feed and care for them. We were welcomed to go there any time to walk and play with the furry residents.
We have had an amazing experience here!!
If you are interested in learning more you can go to www.saveelephant.org