A visit to a special retirement home

The eight hour transfer on Monday from Yenangyaung brought us to Kalaw – a small city in Shan state locate among beautiful hills and valleys at an elevation of 1300m. It was a well-known place under the British colonial rule and you still see a lot of colonial architecture around. Today it is the focus of many trekking aficionados coming from or going to Inle lake. We quickly noticed the change in climate and were not unhappy to escape the tremendous heat of the plain. We even feel a bit cold in the evening with some 15 degrees.

Today, after a very beautiful trekking yesterday, we decided to something special and visited an institution that was created a few years ago. It basically is a special house for the elderly … elephants! But to reach the Green Valley Elephant Camp we first had to drive down the mountain road that we had just passed two days before … the picture says it all…and I am not going to describe the state of road or even the driving style of our taxi.

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Well, we arrived savely at our destination where we were introduced to the project and day program. To sum it up very briefly: Mynmar has the second largest population of elephants in Asia – about 7000 animals. Roughly 2000 are wild and live in the northern and western forests – the rest is used for work. Alone 3000 are owned by the government that used elephants in the logging industry. Currently there is a logging ban by the government as Myanmar risks running out of primary forest and so many elephants are out of work. The intention of the camp is to give old or disabled elephants a new home after their career and educate the public about this marvellous animals. Additionally the camp runs a reforestation program and other sustainability projects – for instance paper production from elephant dung. The number of guests is limited to 20 per day and so we had a whole day to calmly enjoy these friendly giants. Throughout the day were accompanied by a guide who explained us many facts and interesting insights.

Our first task was to help feeding the elephants. So basically elephants eat a few 100kg per day and are occupied with eating roughly around 16-17 hours! After an initial hesitation that was quickly lost first by Diego and after a while also by Enzo the boys were just thrilled to feed and touch the elephants under the eye of their respective mahouts. These – by the way – live on the camp with their families and each elephant is followed by only one mahout.

After that we had the chance to change clothes and then walked a little bit up a small river with an elephant where we shared a bath with the guy. Well,  we not really shared a bath but rather scrubbed and rubbed the big guy – he seemed to enjoy it. A really unique experience for all of us. Only Rino was a bit afraid by the sheer size or maybe the cool water …

We received a delicious meal and had some further explanations about the life of the elephants. For instance, we were surprised to hear that the elephants actually leave the camp around 4pm to spend the night by themselves in the forest. In the afternoon we had again the chance to spend an hour feeding the elephants before we left the camp really really happy and impressed. Another day to remember!

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