Elephants are some of the world’s most majestic creatures. They’re the largest living land animals on Earth. Known for their memory and intelligence, Elephants are a symbol of wisdom in Asian cultures. When I was a girl living in Kenya, I spent long days by the game preserve’s salt lick, watching the elephants interacting with each other and caring for their young. Once, three hyenas tried to attack one of the babies and the adults surrounded her in a giant circle, trumpeting their furious sounds and rearing up, thrashing their massive tusks in the air. The hyenas skulked back into the underbrush. The baby was safe. Elephants migrate over huge distances, through deserts, to find watering holes. The matriarchs teach the younger females how to find the water, where to find food, how far to march… elephants are some of the only animals besides humans that have culture. They have history. They have communities. They have no natural predators and yet, elephants all over the world are facing possible extinction.
The ivory of elephant’s tusks is one main reason for this. For centuries humans have killed elephants, leaving behind their massive bodies and taking only the long white tusks. Ivory is extremely valuable, used to make jewelry and piano keys. Of course today, piano keys are made from synthetic ivory but the black market still exists and elephants are still killed for their tusks every day. They are also quickly losing habitat as climate change expands the deserts, moving life-giving water out of reach for migrating herds.
As an animal lover, it is hard to know what to do to fight for the creatures that make our world so special and unique. Volunteering is probably the most effective way that non-scientists can get involved to help these incredible animals. Elephant Nature Park in Thailand is always looking for dedicated volunteers. Volunteers stay up to a month and work directly with the animals. Duties include bathing the elephants, gathering food, monitoring the activities of the herd, interacting with the animals one-on-one, and administering basic health care. (Note: tromping around with the elephants all day is a great way to get in shape!) Volunteers are also encouraged to explore the area, to experience local culture and hospitality. Younger volunteers are welcome as long as they have adult supervision.
Elephant Nature Park also offers many short-term educational programs for interested tourists. Visitors to the park can stay for a day, overnight, or for a few days to learn all about the Asian elephant through hands-on interaction.