Discovering the Green Valley Elephant Camp
Guest post by Amy Kerner:
When I travel around the world I always scour the internet to find authentic indigenous experiences. I’m a true animal lover and everyone who knows me knows this to be true! Once I discovered the Green Valley Elephant Camp (GVEC) online and read the reviews, I was sold! I could tell immediately that this opportunity would be special and quite different from the circus type elephant experience I took part in while staying in Chaing Mai, Thailand years prior.
Green Valley has a serious interest in rescuing Asian elephants from their tiresome life of working in the timber industry and providing them a peaceful environment where they can receive love, treatment for their medical conditions and lots of rest! A true retirement which they deserve!
My friend and I visited Myanmar in February of 2015 and had 11 days to explore. After 3 epic days in Bagan, we took a 40-minute Asian Wings flight from Bagan to Heho then arranged a ride from the airport to the camp situated near Kalaw. We enjoyed the lush, scenic 1 1/2 hour windy journey as we descended deep inside Myanmar’s highlands.
When we arrived we were greeted by a gaggle of honking geese as well as an employee of the camp, a lovely Burmese man. We were led to the lodge where the office and kitchen are housed, which is situated high above the elephant camp in the middle of a peaceful forest. Our guide gave us a description of the camps mission before we were taken to meet the 7 elephants and their Mahouts (caregivers) who now call the Green Valley Elephant Camp their forever home.
5 female and 2 male rough and wrinkled elephants currently live at GVEC and will grow old there. One of these elephants is a 5 year old baby who has been orphaned. He was adorable and wasn’t shy about reaching for as much food as he could get his trunk on! He’s known there for being greedy and spoiled. As we were introduced to the elephants we were told about each ones personal story. Most had medical condition such as issues with their eyes or feet which were neglected for years! We truly enjoyed petting and feeding each one handfuls of squash and bamboo stalks as we formed a bond with these marvelous creatures.
I felt very safe amongst them right from the start even though our size difference was indeed a large one! The elephant that I favored had a unique behavioral difference from the others (which is not surprising of me since I’ve worked with special needs children for 17 years). This elephant would not take food with it’s trunk like the others elephants and kept backing away. Initially, I thought he was shy and just needed to spend more time warming up to us. We were then instructed to place the food directly into it’s huge mouth bypassing his trunk entirely. We had been informed to look closely at it’s trunk. Immediately, I observed a large scar in the middle of his truck, revealing the multiple beatings this elephant must have endured! Due to this repeated abuse he now fears anyone coming close to his trunk.
When we were finished spoiling our new friends, it was time for us to become real animal caregivers, referred to locally as “mahout”. We were given special loose pants to change into, which kind if made me look like I was wearing diaper. Two elephants (1 elephant per 2 people) were lead down to the water and we followed behind them along the path. We watched the head mahout speak to “our” elephant as he told him to lower himself into the river. It was finally time to get into the river and try out being a Mahout ourselves. We took our time scrubbing him with a cloth and soap and discovered quickly, Asian elephants are super hairy. He didn’t make a peep and appeared to enjoy bath time very much! It was a crazy experience knowing that this large animal could take me down in a second but having complete trust that he wouldn’t.
When we finished our bathing duties we hoped on his back along with its mahout and took a short ride bareback through the river then onto land to deliver the elephants back to where they spend their time. Each step the elephant took we felt every muscle move under us.
We changed out of our wet mahout pants and sat down with 2 other travelers to learn more and share our experience. We learned a great deal such as; only 40% of Asian males have tusks, they average 4-5 tons, have 5 front toe nails, they have big heads and small ears, a good sense of smell, hearing and great night vision. Only Asian elephants can be trained and domesticated unlike African ones. There remain 4500 thousand elephants in all of Asia with 10,000 in Myanmar. Don’t think I ever learned any of that in any high school or college classes!
Finally it was time for us to get fed. We walked back to the lodge by crossing the river and then back up a steep hill. We sat in a gorgeous gazebo overlooking the dense forest while enjoying an Indian lunch. After lunch we were allowed to relax in the sun or go back down to spend more time feeding the elephants or explore the terrain. I decided to stay behind and reflect on this amazing day while my friend headed back down to say goodbye to all the elephants. I was super psyched we opted to visit Green Valley Elephant Camp and witness first hand a project like this taking place in Myanmar. I hope GVEC provides a good example to stop elephant abuse in Asia and around the world.
If you plan on visiting Kalaw or near by Inle Lake I highly suggest spending a day at Green Valley! This is a perfect day for nature lovers, animal lovers and for those seeking charitable projects happening around the world. Their mission is important and the memories we made are priceless!
My name is Amy Kerner and I’m a native NY’er. My life motto is: “Have passport, will travel”. I set a personal goal of traveling to two countries per year and have been doing so since 2006. I work as a Speech Language Pathologist for children with disabilities in the Bronx. My job allows me to help children and families. In my spare time I also enjoy biking, the beach, cooking and helping people with travel advice. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t reach out to me about a travel destination! I still have much of the world to see but I’m thrilled that I’ve had the opportunity to see more than 30 countries so far! If you want to follow Amy’s travels, check out her Instagram.