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Meeting elephants for peanuts: One travel writer's (inexpensive) experiences in Thailand

February 15, 2010 |  7:39 pm

Thailand's 1989 ban on commercial logging sent thousands of elephants to training camps that sprang up around the country -- some ethical, some not so ethical. Travel writer Christopher Smith recently visited and profiled the Elephant Conservation Center camp in Lampang Province. (He describes the trip as "the best $2.55 I've ever spent on vacation.") Here's an excerpt:

Elephant painter For less than the cost of a Double Whopper, I spent a day in the company of 55 whoppers -- domesticated Asian elephants being rehabbed after lives of labor. No chains, no enclosures, often no distance at all from behemoths within touching range.

For an animal lover like me, it was a pachyderm paradise for the price of peanuts.

As for the elephants, it was probably just another routine day at the 300-acre Elephant Conservation Center in northern Thailand. As part of their schedule, the elephants performed in 45-minute shows that displayed their former tasks, such as hauling logs, and newfound skills, which include painting abstract art that has sold for thousands of dollars at fundraising auctions. After showtimes, the elephants sauntered down a dirt road for a dip in a lagoon.

Beyond the organized activities, there was plenty to see at the center, which is 45 miles southeast of Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand. The conservation center draws more than 10,000 Thai children annually and a steady stream of elephant-centric tourists.

At an outdoor nursery, three moms were keeping an eye on their calves, ranging from 5 months to 1 year old. Nearby was a veterinary hospital where visitors could see animals being treated.


Photo: One of the Elephant Conservation Center elephants taps into his inner Rembrandt. Credit: Sherry Stern / Los Angeles Times

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