An unforgettable elephant experience

An unforgettable elephant experience

Recent Commerce graduate Alli O’Donnell spent three weeks volunteering at an Elephant Park in Thailand—after being inspired in one of her final University papers.

One of the many elephant herds at Elephant Nature Park, late afternoon.

Coming in to my third and final year at Victoria University of Wellington studying Marketing and Management, I knew I wanted to do something memorable to celebrate the completion of my degree. I just wasn’t sure what.

It wasn’t until I began MGMT307: Entrepreneurship in July last year that I really understood what I wanted that to be… volunteer work for a social enterprise organisation.

In December 2018, I spent three weeks in three different locations in Thailand—not on your average holiday, but volunteering with rescued Asian elephants through the well-known organisation Elephant Nature Park. The money you pay to visit the park covers your accommodation, food, activities and also helps them with the everyday expenses of running such a big place.

Patting Jokia at Elephant Nature Park, a female elephant who is blind in both eyes from human abuse.

Owner and Founder of the Elephant Nature Park and Save the Elephant Foundation Lek Chailert has devoted her life to saving as many working elephants as she can from riding camps, the circus and tree logging so that they can retire and be free from working for humans for the rest of their lives. Not only does she rescue elephants but also water buffalo, dogs, cats, chickens, horses and more from being slaughtered.

Unfortunately, the elephants have suffered years of abuse at the hands of humans, which means many of them are not ‘normal’. It is not uncommon to see elephants that have big cuts, infections, dislocated or broken limbs, and are even blind or deaf. This is where the volunteer work becomes very important.

Elephants at Elephant Nature Park sleep in large ‘bedrooms’ at night to protect themselves and the people around them. Two females exchange a hug as they say goodbye for the night.

Over the three weeks I was there, our daily activities varied from preparing elephant food, cleaning up their ‘bedrooms’, cleaning up around the park or areas that the elephants mostly hang out in or even going on walks with them. Whatever needed doing that day we did it, but for no more than five hours a day. The rest of the time we were allowed to go hang out with the elephants (supervised) and feed them, mingle with other volunteers from all over the world, enjoy the local cuisine or just read a book in the sunshine.

Teenage elephant enjoying her afternoon meal at the Elephant Nature Park. She was rescued after stepping on a landmine when being forced to work by her owners, in the logging industry, on the boarder of Burma and Thailand. She requires daily care from the onsite veterinarians and her bandage is changed twice a day.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time volunteering in Thailand. I never thought I would get so close to such an amazing animal on so many occasions and meet so many incredible people from all over the world who I still talk to today. Without taking MGMT307 I wouldn’t have ever considered this type of adventure so I’m glad I did because this trip really was life changing.

Our guide for the week Mr Yo has a very personal connection with the baby elephant of the herd, two year old Gili—Journey to Freedom Project, Northern Thailand (December 2018).

I would encourage anyone to study MGMT307, whether you have an interest in management or not because it is such an interesting and different way of looking at management, business and opportunities as a whole. Supporting social enterprise through my volunteer work with rescued Asian elephants was definitely one of the most incredible things I have ever done, and I would recommend this type of experience to anyone.

Mum and baby (four months old) are glued at the hip on their daily walk around the village—Surin Project, Southeast Thailand (December 2018).

Alli O’Donnell is a recent Bachelor of Commerce graduate, who majored in Marketing and Management.

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