Tuesday Travel: Elephant Nature Park

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

Sometimes I forget that traveling is something people actually do. It seems so easy to get trapped in daily, weekly, monthly, yearly responsibilities that the idea of traveling somewhere for any reason other than responsibility seems absurd. But I’ve got a newly awakened travel itch going on right now. Maybe it’s springtime in the air, who knows.

For instance, there is a beautiful place I would love to visit someday. It is in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai and it is called Elephant Nature Park. If any of you have seen, “How I Became An Elephant,” then you know about the Park and its impressive founder, Lek.

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The other day, as I was reading about the Park’s many volunteer opportunities, I noticed how many aspects of Connection are being fostered there. The Park not only provides a sanctuary for injured and disabled elephants (and now dogs as well) but they also prioritize helping the very people who caused the elephants’ traumas in the first place. The owners and trainers–called mahouts–“break” baby elephants in a very violent way in order to be able to use the elephants for raising money for the rest of their lives through practices like street performing, begging, and logging. None of these things are very happy or healthy for the elephants of course.

However, the founders of the Park are very unique in that while they want to save these elephants, they also recognize the centuries-long ties that the mahouts and the grander culture have formed with the elephants. In order to honor these ties and the financial need of the mahouts while also bringing reformation to elephant exploitation, the Park is working with the people of Thailand to educate and train mahouts about alternative, humane, conservation-driven ways of earning a living and retaining their elephants. It isn’t perfect, but it is a beautiful example of EcoConnection, InterConnection, and Animal Connection at work. Throw in the volunteers from all over the world who are transformed by the opportunity to give back and gain perspective through their time at the Park and we can add InnerConnection as well.

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This all made me wonder: How else can Connection in all its facets be explored through travel? I intend to find out, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, do you know how much 12000 Thai Bhat is in U.S. dollars? $376.02. That is how much it costs to volunteer at the Park for one week. Makes travel for connection’s sake not seem so absurd, huh?

With love,

~~~S Wave~~~

The Secret Life of Juan

From NPR. Shakespeare himself could have written this as a tragedy were he alive today. The King’s country is falling into financial ruins. He tells the people to be frugal. He tells leaders to reflect on their own behavior and to be models for the citizens. He stands as the honorary president of the World Wildlife Fund in his monarchy. And then what does he do?? He goes on a $60,000 elephant hunting trip in Botswana. (picture is from previous trip in 2006.) 

But, lo and behold, he breaks his hip during the trip and must explain his injury to the nation he thought he could fool. Animal rights, WWF, and the unemployed, underserved Spanish people are up in arms.  This guy dug himself a whole so deep you could bury a trophy hunted elephant in it.

(And as an interesting secondary plot, his 13-year-old grandson is currently being investigated in an incident during which he “shot himself in the foot.” Ah, the irony.) 

Here is the full story…

 

OPEN SEASON ON SPAIN’S KING AFTER LUXE HUNTING TRIP

by LAUREN FRAYER

For a man used to pomp and paparazzi, King Juan Carlos of Spain looked shaken, emerging from a hospital in Madrid Wednesday after hip surgery.

“I’m very sorry,” he said, blinking into the cameras, sheepish, and leaning on his crutches. “I made a mistake, and it won’t happen again.”

As Spaniards grapple with severe austerity measures and 24 percent unemployment, their king is dealing with a different kind of pain — extreme embarrassment over public outrage upon his return from an elephant hunt in Africa that cost nearly $60,000, or more than twice the average salary in Spain.

And the Spanish public only found out about the trip because he broke his hip — hence the recent surgery — and had to be airlifted home.

The Royal Palace confirmed that this is the first time a Spanish king has ever said he’s sorry — at least publicly — for anything.

But it’s not enough for Rafa Lucia, a social worker smoking in the rain outside a Madrid library. He’s been jobless for months. The government cut his local school’s budget by 30 percent.

And the Royal Palace’s budget?

“They cut just 2 percent. And now this. It’s like, OK, so the government doesn’t cut [their budget], and now he’s spending the money in Africa killing elephants,” Lucia says.

Adding Insult To Injury

Spaniards can’t decide which would be worse — whether their king might have spent public money on his jaunt to Botswana last week, or whether it was paid for by an Arab businessman courting favor, as some reports say. Either way, there are calls for the king’s abdication.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if the king hadn’t recently given a speech calling on Spanish leaders to think about their own behavior and set an example of modesty amid recession. He also said he loses sleep worrying that the unemployment rate among young Spaniards is 50 percent.

Members of the animal-rights group Igualdad Animal protest outside the Madrid hospital where Spanish King Juan Carlos was recovering after hip surgery this week. The king, who went elephant hunting in Africa, is the honorary president of the World Wildlife Fund in Spain.

EnlargeLauren Frayer for NPRMembers of the animal-rights group Igualdad Animal protest outside the Madrid hospital where Spanish King Juan Carlos was recovering after hip surgery this week. The king, who went elephant hunting in Africa, is the honorary president of the World Wildlife Fund in Spain.

Sharon Nuñez, an animal-rights activist, organized a protest outside the king’s hospital this week. Volunteers lined the street with photos of maimed elephants and water buffalo.

“That’s the funny, ironic thing about it — we have someone who’s going out killing elephants, killing animals, and he’s representing an international environmental organization,” Nuñez says.

She’s referring to the fact that the king is the honorary president of the World Wildlife Fund in Spain.

This proved particularly awkward when a snapshot of Juan Carlos began circulating online this week. It shows him posing in front of an elephant he shot dead in Botswana in 2006.

WWF’s conservation director for Spain, Enrique Segovia, says he has requested an audience with the king to discuss whether he’ll keep that position.

“We’ve had many, many complaints from members,” Segovia says. “The image of the king hunting elephants, it’s incongruent with an organization like ours that defends elephants.”

Rough Year For Royals

Spain’s monarchy is mostly symbolic, but well-respected. Juan Carlos was hand-picked by Gen. Francisco Franco to lead Spain before the dictator died in 1975, and the king is credited with easing the country’s transition to democracy.

But college student Roy Alexander Bouzas says times have changed.

“It’s true that old people here in Spain appreciate the work that the king did in the transition,” he says. “But I think we’re now in another time — the transition is the past — and the king has to [make] efforts like the rest of the citizens.”

It’s been a tough year for Spain’s royals. The king’s son-in-law is the subject of a corruption probe. And last week, police began investigating an incident involving the king’s 13-year-old grandson, who recently shot himself in the foot.