Strengthening Elephants and Awareness in Thailand

Quarter Highlights

Another quarter has come and gone! Leslie has been busy working at the Thai Elephant Home nurturing the elephants and raising awareness. Highlights from the first quarter’s narrative report include:

  1. National Elephant Day

  2. Department of Livestock Development Visit

  3. TravelLife Update

  4. The Walk Camp Program

  5. Friends for Asia

  6. Group Visits

  7. Leslie’s Elephant Conservation Activities

  8. Rose Moe Dee

Please note that Leslie’s report was edited for formatting and length.

National Elephant Day

The Government of Thailand has marked 13 March every year as National Elephant Day. On this day, the whole country pays respect to these majestic animals. As for the Thai Elephant, we celebrated the event by providing a huge fruit buffet for the elephants. On the ground, large banana leaves were laid in a straight line, onto which we laid sliced fruit such as, bananas, pineapple, watermelon and sugar cane. The elephants dined on the abundance for a long time.

Department of Livestock Development Visit

Every year the Government of Thailand visits all of the elephant camps to monitor the movement of the domestic elephants as well as checking on the elephants’ health.

Early February a group of 7 veterinarians visited the Thai Elephant Home Nursery where the baby elephants and their mothers are kept, as well as the main camp where some 14 riding elephants are houses.

First, veterinarians checked the micro-chip which all domestic elephants are required to have. These chips are inserted using a needled and syringe in the muscle behind the left ear. A machine placed over the muscle records the number, which is then checked against the government records.

In addition to checking the elephants’ overall health, this year the veterinarians took saliva swabs from the elephants to complete an analysis. Although, the pregnant elephants were not swabbed since their hormone levels change with the pregnancy.

TravelLife

Over the last quarter, the gathering and documenting information about Thai Elephant Home for TravelLife was completed. As a result, a follow-up document was completed this quarter, with detailed information on each elephant and their mahout. This included the names (mahout and elephants), ages, whether the elephant was owned by Thai Elephant Home or a rental, as well as the nationality of the mahout. Currently all of the Thai Elephant Home mahouts are Thai citizens. Many of the camps employ mahouts from Myanmar. These mahout need to register with the Thai Immigration Authorities and do a check in every 90 days.

The Walk Camp Program

Photo provided by Leslie

In this new program, Thai leave Bangkok Saturday morning and fly into Chiang Mai around noon. They are then transported to the Thai Elephant Home Nursery where they spend Saturday and Sunday relaxing, away from the hectic Bangkok life!

The camp uses only solar power, which is a strong attraction for Bangkok Thai. The bungalows are simple structures built on poles in the rice paddies. There is electricity and fans, powered by the sun. Four simple meals are provided to the guests. While at the camp, the guests learn about organic gardening at the nursery, as well as elephant conservation and preservation. Some of the activities they participate in include:

  1. Feeding the elephants

  2. Walk with them into the jungle and watch them eat bamboo

  3. Take the elephants to the river for a bath.

Although elephants are held in very high regard throughout all of Thailand, many Thai have never seen a real live elephant. As a result, this weekend adventure provides Thai with an opportunity to learn about and interact with their national treasure. After lunch on Sunday, the guests say goodbye to the elephants and are transported back to Chiang Mae where they catch their flight back to Bangkok. Last quarter, this program had great success! There were Walk Camp guests (from 8 to 15) at the nursery every weekend. The program has become so popular that some people arrived during the week, as well as the weekend.

Friends for Asia

During this quarter, individuals from Chile, USA, England, and Canada volunteered at the nursery. A total of 18 volunteers helped the Thai Elephant Home:

  1. Develop the organic vegetable garden

  2. Make herb balls to feed the elephant

  3. Cleaned the elephant poop every morning

  4. Helped facilitate the visits of guests for the 2 hour and 1 day program

This volunteer program continues to gain momentum with the number of individuals wishing to participate growing. It is expected the nursery will host 12 volunteers in July.

Group Visits

For groups who wish to play with the baby elephants, Thai Elephant Home continues to be a popular destination. These are groups which are not interested in riding the elephants. Rather, they simply wish to observe elephants in their natural habitat. The following companies sent multiple groups to the nursery this last quarter:

  1. Road Scholars with 15 to 20 American seniors per group (6 groups)

  2. Risskov Rejser-Nordic Tours with 25 Danish guests per group (5 groups) and 12 Norwegian teenage photographers

  3. Chiang Mai Photographic Department sent 2 groups,

  4. Thai Youth for Understanding(facilitates a high school student exchange program) sent 17 international students

  5. Discover Corps sent 2 groups(total of 14 individuals) from the USA.

In preparation, tour leaders provide detailed information about the Thai elephants, conservation, and preservation issues. As a result, these groups come prepared with in depth questions and leave with a better understanding. Over and over at the end of their visit, these guests thank Thai Elephant Home for the work it is doing to educate people and providing a safe, loving environment for the elephants.

Elephant Conservation Activities

Primarily, the focus of my elephant conservation activities involve talking with individuals and groups who visit Thai Elephant Home. Many people come to Thailand with preconceived ideas about elephant conservation. What I help them understand through these conversations is the reality of present day Thailand.

For example, many people cannot understand why elephants are held at tourist camps and not allowed to roam free. What I explain to them is that 100 years ago when elephants did roam free, Thailand was 95 % jungle. Now Thailand is less than 5% jungle.

In other words, people live everywhere with most of the land now under cultivation. There are no large expanses of land for the elephants to roam freely aside from the national parks. People pressure continues to impact these parks as people farm the adjacent land. When the elephants leave the park, there are serious problems between people and the elephants. More and more often it is elephants who suffer from these interactions, as they are poisoned, shot or even sometimes electrocuted when they pull down the power lines. As elephants are expensive to own and to care for, the tourism industry supports the care for Thailand’s elephants.

I believe these discussions help tourists better understand the constraints as well as the hope for conserving Thailand’s elephants. In the process, these tourists return home and help educate other people as well.

Rose Moe Dee

Last quarter I began working with a 30 year old female elephant named Moe Dee (I added Rose to her name) instead of Loong T, a 9 year old male elephant. I hadn’t really had much of a relationship with Loong T for a couple of years, so I decided to switch to a female, more gentle elephant; one I could approach and work with on my own.

Recently, I learned Rose Moe Dee stepped on an unexploded bomb a while ago. Surgery was required on her front right foot to remove the shrapnel from the bomb. While the surgery was successful, a hole about the size on my little finger was left in the bottom of her foot.

Now some years later the hole is still there and will be for the rest of her life. She favors that foot when she is standing, by lifting it to take the weight off that leg. Although, she does not appear to be in any pain when she walks as no limping is evident. We will be monitoring the bottom of her foot daily however to make sure no stone gets lodged in that hole, which could become an irritant leading to an infection.

Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow, and will make, not only our own happiness, but that of the world at large. -Roy Goodman

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