Rescued: A Promising Future for Elephants
"I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."- Albert Schweitzer
This past summer, Melodie, Legacy's President and COO, had the opportunity to visit Leslie at the Thai Elephant Home. Leslie has been working at the Thai Elephant Home for a few years. With the help of Legacy, he was able to rescue an elephant named Mae Noi. Prior to being rescued, Mae Noi was being taken across the border to Myanmar to work in the logging industry. Thanks to Leslie, the team at the Thai Elephant Home, and Legacy, Mae Noi has made a full recovery and is in excellent health. Recently, Mae Noi gave birth to her first baby named T Noi.
Last week, Leslie sent his quarterly narrative report on his volunteer work at the Thai Elephant Home. Highlights include:
An update on Mae Noi and T Noi
How the Thai Elephant Home was selected to become accredited by Travelife, an international travel organization.
Please note that Leslie's report was edited for formatting and length.
Moving to the Nursery
At 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 3, Mae Noi, T Noi, Boon Nam (the herd’s elderly matriarch) 4 mahout (elephant trainers) and myself began the long walk from Thai Elephant Home to the nursery, some 20 kilometers away. We started early for two reasons: first to travel when it was cool and secondly to avoid much of the vehicle traffic along the paved road we would follow.
Prior to this walk, we’d been talking Mae Noi and T Noi out on daily walks along jungle paths to familiarize him with the process of walking distances with his mom. On these jungle walks, as with the walk to the nursery, T Noi, unlike other baby elephants who walked between their mother’s front legs, would walk out in front of his mother.
Early on, T Noi showed a great deal of independence. These jungle walks went on for a couple of months, so the camp agreed T Noi was ready to make the long walk to the nursery T Noi pretty much set the pace for the walk with Mae Noi and Boon Nam following along behind him. Boon Nam accompanied us on the trip, to provide some comfort and reassurance to Mae Noi along the way. We stopped only when T Noi wanted to nurse.
At 9:30 a.m., four hours after we’d left the main camp, Mae Noi, T Noi, and Boon Nam entered the nursery. It became obvious from the start that T Noi was not happy with his new surroundings by the loud growls he uttered. The sounds and behavior were all normal. He was reacting to a new environment and felt out of his comfort zone. He had no interest in meeting up with the other two little elephants at the camp. The second day when we brought him to a small stream to take a bath, he refused to enter the water.
By the end of his first week, however, T Noi had adjusted to the nursery, entered the stream gleefully to play in the water, and to wander away from his mom to explore his new home. He still did some growling, but that’s just his character I’ve come to note. If he doesn’t like something, he will tell you!
Developing a partnership with Travelife
This quarter Thai Elephant Home, based on an invitation from Travelife, began the process of becoming accredited by this internationally recognized travel organization. I played a major role in helping the staff understand the requirements (all written in English) and to begin implementing the process.
Travelife is dedicated to making holidays more sustainable. They work with travel businesses around the world to help them improve their social, economic, and environmental impacts. Businesses that prove they meet the Travelife sustainability criteria become Travelife certified, helping these businesses to easily promote their achievements to others. Travelife is funded by donations from international travel agencies as well as the Eco-innovation Initiative of the European Union.
Travelife has worked in the past primarily with travel agencies and hotels. However, based on the request of the international travel agencies, Travelife is now helping set the standards for elephant welfare around the world. These agencies were responding to the demand from their clients to know which elephant camps were ethical and focused on the well being of the elephants. There has been so much in the news about the abuse of elephants. The traveling public wanted to be assured that when they visited an elephant camp, it met the highest standards in terms of caring for the elephants. With the help of experts in a variety of fields, Travelife developed a list of criteria (172 categories). These criteria must be met to receive the certification.
One of the Hundreds
Thai Elephant Home was one of only ten Thai elephant programs (out of hundreds) selected by Travelife to potentially become accredited. To receive this accreditation, a rigorous program of elephant welfare standards must be met as well as the initiation of a thorough training program for all staff, English speaking tour guides and mahout. Documentation of the completion of all these activities must be presented to Travelife to receive the accreditation.
Although a demanding assignment, the process will help Thai Elephant Home focus more keenly on its elephant welfare program. Currently Thai Elephant Home is a small family run business. The arrival of Travelife and the fact the elephant camp has become a Limited Partnership under Thai law more is now being required.
Outline for the Next 3-6 Months
The staff feels positive this move towards accreditation will greatly strengthen the overall program of the camp. Even though, considerable work will be required to make it all happen. The following is a brief outline of some that will be taken over the next 3 to 6 months:
The formation of an Elephant Welfare Management Committee which is to meet quarterly to set goals and develop a work plan to accomplish the goals.
During these meetings, the committee will review the last quarter’s goals and make any necessary adjustments for the next quarter.
The plan is to develop/design the necessary templates for all of the above, begin the training this quarter and to make the systems operational the beginning of 2019.
Wanachart (the manager) and I met with the Travelife staff for an initial informational session in October. In November a team from Travelife visited Thai Elephant Home for one day. During which they conducted an initial audit, gathering information and taking photos of all aspects of the camp.
Once Thai Elephant Home has put into place all the required systems and procedures, it is expected we will receive our accreditation sometime during the first half of 2019.
To learn more about the work of the Thai Elephant Home, visit their website here!
Want to keep up with Leslie's work with the Elephants? Follow his blog here!