The Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC)
At about 9:40 am and 1:10 pm every day, just before the Thai Elephant Conservation Center’s first and last shows of the day, about fifteen performing elephants take a bath in a beautiful pond just below the rides area. After the bath, visitors can walk alongside as the elephants parade to the showground.
Bathing is quite a spectacle, with fifteen elephants submerging and rolling and spraying water with their trunks. The mahouts very nimbly manage not to fall into the water while scrubbing their charges. Most Homestay participants are allowed to join in the bathing, which often ends up in a water fight, with the elephants serving as enormous water guns. A good time is had by everybody, both elephants and people — especially keen photographers.
Elephants, whether captive or in the wild, love water and if possible they will bathe once or twice every day, particularly in the hot season. A constant challenge for mahouts, who want to keep the animals clean and beautiful for the show, is that the elephant’s first impulse on getting out of the water is to cover itself in dust and dirt, the elephant equivalent of talcum powder. (In fact, dirt has health benefits because it helps protect elephants from both the sun and biting insects).
Elephants are naturally very good swimmers, and watching this display makes it easy to understand why some biologists have speculated that elephants might have evolved in an aquatic environment, specifically estuaries and shallow river mouths. (Their closest relatives are the manatees and dugongs and, rather harder to believe, the tiny hyraxes.)