I have always wanted to ride an elephant. Don't know why, but I have. My dream came true this December when we were in Luang Prabang, Laos.
This was such a fun activity and a once-in-a-life-time experience, I have documented it with many photos : ) Below, was my first introduction to the elephant. I think it is funny to analyze my body language. I am trying to get close to it, but you can see from the hunched shoulders, I am afraid.
D, on-the-other-hand, was not. Did you know a baby elephant can weigh up to 200 pounds when it is born? Gestation in elephant typically lasts 18–23 months and they usually birth every four to five years.
During our day at the Elephant Village we were on the elephants three times, and each time we learned a different way to climb onto the elephant. The first was the easiest as we climbed onto her back from a raised platform.
Our elephant's name was Mae Kham Kun and she was 38 years old. To help us get familiar with her, our first ride was in a seat. But D was quick to climb directly onto the elephant's back. If you are thinking how did we know how to ride the elephant?? The mahout is with us at all times, he was on the ground taking the photos.
This ride was the longest, it latest about 45 minutes. The Elephant Village is in a lush jungle valley on the banks of the Nam Khan River and the scenery all around was gorgeous. We started out on dry land, and then went through water.
Was it scary? Yes at times it was, especially in the beginning. There really is nothing to hold onto as the elephant sways from side-to-side. Check out D's tongue action and ..... well my face says it all!
The photo below was towards the end of the ride....my body is very relaxed. I did ride on her back for awhile, but it takes a lot of leg work to hold on (let me tell you... the next day I felt muscles on the inside of my thigh that I never knew I had). I needed a break so I moved back into the seat, which really took skill.
Our mahout was great - he took so many photos. A mahout is the name of a person who rides and trains elephant. Usually a boy, he starts in the "family business" at a fairly young age. He will be assigned an elephant and they will be attached to each other throughout the elephant's life.
The elephant is the largest land animal on Earth. There are two species of elephants, the African (largest), and Asian. The Asian, which we rode, are slightly smaller. Adult male elephants can reach weights of six to eight tons. To put it into perspective, most cars weigh about two tons.
Most of the elephants have injuries as they were working elephants in the logging industry before coming to the elephant rescue village. Mae Kham Kum was injured after stepping onto a stick of dynamite.
We learned a second way to mount the elephant. This one was a bit more difficult with very little help from the elephant!
The elephant bent her leg slightly, we grabbed her ear, and stepped up on her leg. One mahout pushed...
and the other pulled.....
And you use every ounce of strength you have to get up on them.
Hurray - I made it!
Our next event was a mini mahout lesson where they taught us basic commands to direct the elephant - shown below.
Elephants are among the most intelligent species, next to humans. They communicate both verbally and with body language.
We fed them bananas. The elephant's trunk is not only used for smelling and breathing it's also used for drinking, grabbing food, and sending out loud trumpeting noises.
We have been asked if the elephants smelled bad. They did not.....except when his trunk came up to find the bananas. He let out a big breath and it was pretty stinky!
How do you get off of the elephant you ask?
Not very gracefully!!!
They tell you to gently slide down the elephants side....
OOPS!! I jumped
Next we took a break for the elephants to eat a little snack. They love to eat pineapple tops. Fun fact: Elephants don’t like peanuts. They don’t eat them in the wild, and zoos don’t feed them to their captive elephants.
They can reach heights over 13 feet and will eat 300-600 pounds of food per day. Elephants are vegetarians.
The Mahout got under the elephant's chin and then told me to do it. I tried, but this is as far as I was willing to go. Again, that scared look on my face : )
What happens when an elephant eats 300 to 600 pounds of food? See below : ) No smell...just GIGANTIC!
This is the third way to mount an elephant. The Mahout gets the elephant to lay down. Much easier than the second way.
It still takes a lot of strength to pull yourself up and there was not a second Mahout pushing me from the rear.
Like human toddlers, elephants have passed the mirror test—they recognize themselves in a mirror.
Elephants may lie down to sleep. This generally happens at night. During the day they often take short naps - standing. Altogether, they sleep about six hours per day.
The average lifespan of an elephant in the wild is 60 to 70 years.
I want to write a little about the Elephant camp we selected. The Elephant Village is a privately owned elephant camp and tour destination approved by the Laos government and operated by International Specialists and volunteers who focus on protection and rehabilitation of elephants in Laos.
From their web page: The Elephant Village’s mission is to provide a peaceful home and sustainable future to elephants in LAOS. Tourism activities contribute the elephants with the opportunity for support themselves and the neighboring local villages. Elephant Village is managed in a sustainable and fair manner that actively benefits both, elephants and local villages.
Most of the camp staff comes from villages nearby. The elephant food supplement is purchased from villages around the camp. We were very impressed by this organization. The elephants seemed to be well cared for and their program was very well done.
The last event with our elephants was a bath.
What fun this was! Elephants are good swimmers and they love the water. The Mahouts said this is the elephants favorite time of day.
Slightly scared look again.... I did NOT want to step on the bottom of the river!
The elephants love to have their skin brushed. The skin of the elephant is not very thick and is very sensitive to the sun. They get sunburned very easily. To prevent this, they throw sand on their back and head.
The Elephant's skin is wrinkled in appearance. Wrinkles keep elephants cooler than if they had smooth skin. It was dry to the touch, but still soft.
D had the elephant who loved to squirt her trunk up into the air.... An adult Asian elephant can hold up to 2.2 gallons of water in its trunk. Water is sprayed into the mouth for drinking and onto the back to keep cool.
The Mahout would tap the elephant on the rear with his foot and she would spray D. The Mahout was having a very good time and had the elephant continuously squirting D. My elephant never did this.
And if you have not seen enough photos of our elephant experience - here is a little video clip:
We LOVED this experience and highly recommend an elephant ride if you ever have the chance.
Laos is thought to have only 700 elephants left in the wild. Unfortunately, poachers, dam builders, loggers and farmers are taking a deadly toll on the endangered species. Camps and villages like this one are helping to protect the elephants and are even trying to breed them. They certainly are a mysterious, gentle, beautiful animal.