75. Close Encounters of the Elephant Kind

Close encounters of the elephant kind: I’ve been in love with Elephants since I was a little girl and my first pop-up book told me that “E is for Elephant”. I remember that the little elephant drawing would blow its trunk like a horn when I pulled on the tail and just like that, a fascination was born. After I got a taste of getting up close and personal with my first elephant in India, I was on a mission. I did some research into finding humane sanctuaries for rescued elephants and set my sights on visiting one in Laos or Thailand. After my sister Nancy had spent time at a sanctuary in northern Laos, Sloan and I booked a trip with the same company out of Luang Prabang for their “Elephant Camp Mahout Experience.” A mahout is a person who lives with and cares for working elephants and the mahouts we met and shadowed for two days were exceptionally responsible with the 5 retired elephants in their care. All of these animals, including a three year old baby, were thankfully rescued from their difficult lives as logging animals and brought to this camp. Most of the elephants working for logging companies are severely abused in order to make them work longer hours. We were told that one of the elephants had been unable to fully recover from the abuse she suffered and recently died at the camp at just 38 years old, barely middle aged. I’m not certain but I think that may have been the elephant my sister had spent time with just a few months earlier. She had been told that her elephant was given X-tasy in order to work around the clock. “Some rave,” she said.

Over the two days at the camp we got to ride the elephants several times while sitting on their thick wrinkly necks with our feet nestled behind their giant warm flapping ears. We also fed them – they love bananas and sugar cane – and got to bathe them. When I found out that we would get to bathe them I thought it was a joke, that really we would be getting bathed by them, but I was wrong. We rode the elephants into the river, they kneeled down to submerge most of their bodies, and we used (large) scrub brushes to clean them from head to tail. It was fantastic. At one point I swam off my elephant and hovered in front of her, face to face, mammal to mammal. I don’t think you could have pried my smile off with a crowbar. I cried real tears a few times at the realization of what I was actually lucky enough to be doing. While riding, I would lay my body down on top of her giant head and hug it and find myself tearing up. I also cried when I said goodbye to my elephant but not before Sloan got a photo of me clinging to her trunk. This was an experience I will never forget and would gladly return to again and again. In fact, I’ve set my compass to another well-respected elephant sanctuary in northern Thailand. Apparently they have programs up to 30 days long. Hmmm.


  1. molly says:

    that’s a beautiful photo or you and your elephant, amy. your experience sounds incredible. i hope you get more time with the elephants!

  2. that is amazing, Miss A. I can imagine the emotion that must come with something so special that makes you feel so alive.
    I also have a thing for elephants – we have so much in common. E is for Ellen too.

  3. kimberly says:


    I went to a elephant rehabilitation place in Ayutthaya when I was in Thailand years ago. It was so fantastic, getting to hang out when the 1 and 2 year old babies.

    I miss them! Give them a hug for me!