Display of Gratitude – National Elephant Day in Thailand

Each year on the 13th of March elephants in Thailand have a special day all to themselves. On this day they do not have to toil for their keep. Elephant day was first mooted in 1998 and is now firmly established as an important national event. Celebrations start a week ahead mainly to draw attention to efforts for elephant conservation and to protect their disappearing habitat. Each region, resort, elephant camp and conservation centre has their own programmes for commemorating Elephant Day. One of the best outcomes of the day is seeing a large number of elephants in one place looking as if they enjoy the attention.

On this special day many events are organized to honour and express appreciation for the animal that has been very much a part of the country’s culture and history. For most pachyderms the day starts with being blessed and holy water sprinkled on them and a street parade. Thereafter traditional merit making activities such as offering alms and robes to Buddhist priests take place. In some resorts and elephant camps awards are presented to the best mahouts, the best wildlife photographer among others after which the elephants settle down to a feast with all their favourite vegetables and fruit. In some cases the food is placed before individual elephants or handfed by visitors while in other cases it is arranged like a buffet and the elephants line up in orderly rows to enjoy it under the guidance of mahouts. As this is the largest gathering of elephants that anyone would see until the following year, the feast attracts quite a crowd wherever it takes place. Elephant conservationists use the activities to explain the importance of elephant conservation to local people. This is also the time that Thai people can get close to tame elephants to offer them food and in some cases for the children to touch them. An elephant show is usually staged towards the end of the day in most elephant camps. With the number of elephants in captivity almost equaling those in the wild, the plight of elephants in Thailand is highlighted on this their special day.

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Uditha Dharmawardhane is a travel writer who writes under the pen name Roland Lefevre. He specializes in creating features on leisure as well as business travel destinations across the globe.