Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Elephants of Chiang Mai

Elizabeth Zelvin

I was fascinated to hear about a highlight of a friend’s recent trip to Thailand: a visit to the elephants of Chang Mai. These evidently world-famous elephants do a lot more than giving rides to tourists. (Not that I didn’t envy my friend who got to do it. I’ve always wanted to ride an elephant!) But these remarkable elephants play soccer.

They even do a happy dance when they score a goal.

This raised a lot of questions for me. For example, do elephants have team spirit?

Does the whole team do the happy dance when one elephant scores a goal? I learned that they perform individually with the ball, but don’t play an actual game. This suggests that elephants have community, but not competitive team spirit. Sports fans may disagree, but I think this is a good thing. Do people have to teach successive generations to play soccer, or do mothers teach the babies? I don’t know the answer to that one.

Even more remarkable, some of these elephants are painters. Yes, I said painters, producing some amazing works of art.

This raises more questions. For example, are they all creative artists, or are some of them critics? When their paintings are praised, even sold, are they happy for each other?

Again, I wonder if they are free of competitiveness and embrace the concept of a personal best for every elephant. I’d like to believe that the elephants of Chiang Mai excel in their ability to enjoy each other’s successes—just like mystery writers.


Deb Salisbury said...

How amazing! That elephant paints better than I do - by a lot!

Sandra Parshall said...

I don't believe the elephant actually painted that picture of an elephant. :-)

Various animals at the National Zoo "paint" and their artwork is sold to benefit zoo programs. The giant pandas, Mei and Tian, seem to enjoy painting very much.

Elephants love each other dearly, have very strong family bonds, and competitiveness between family members is probably nonexistent.

JJM said...

Hate to challenge your belief, Sandy, but:

I think the real question is whether or not the elephant realizes what (s)he's painting. And the unspoken question is: just how was (s)he trained to do this?

--Mario the Argumentative ;)

Sandra Parshall said...

Well, I'm not ruling out the possibility, and I would love for it to be true. Elephants are brilliant animals and very self-aware. They shouldn't be in zoos or circuses and they shouldn't be carrying tourists around either.

Lynn in Texas said...

Enchanting post, Liz! I love elephants, but am too afraid of heights to ever ride one! Glad your friend had a nice time. I'd still love to go to Thailand and Bali!

Julia Buckley said...

This is amazing to me, and gives me a whole new image of what an animal might see. I knew animals could play, but I've never thought of an animal as a CREATOR. That is new and interesting.