As I learned during our time at Elephant Nature Park and Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary, to understand elephants you have to move at their pace and within their framework of time. Busy yourself at the blurred speed of humankind and you'll miss much of the beautiful gestures and language these gentle giants use.
Category Archives: Asia
Of all the elephants at Elephant Nature Park with their multitude of injuries - broken legs, broken backs, dislocated hips, missing limbs from landmines - I don't know why Medo has lodged herself so deeply in my heart. But she has. And every morning during our stay I'd anxiously wait for her to appear.
Lek Chailert has earned global respect for her tireless work rescuing abused elephants and providing them with a life free of abuse. She's collaborated on laws that would provide them protections, has won international awards, and been featured in articles and documentaries seen around the world. Despite the accolades, in her own country she's been persecuted, threatened, ridiculed, raided, disowned by her own family, and even forced to go into exile for a period of time. But she has never given up fighting for her beliefs.
At quarter past six every morning I would make my way to Elephant Nature Park's main complex for a coffee. It was my favorite time of day here. Quiet and still dark, the hustle and bustle of the day's activities had yet to begin, in the distance the silhouettes of the elephants slowly moving towards the river for a morning drink.
Whether used in the illegal logging trade or in tourist camps for rides and other "entertainment," unless you're lucky enough to come across elephants in the wild while visiting Asia every elephant you encounter will have been both literally and figuratively broken in a process called phajaan.
A tinny PA squarbles some unintelligible noise in the distance, reminding us that the Sunday market is about to kick off. Outside our hotel, Rachadamnoen Road has been wondrously transformed from a hustling, exhaust-filled road choked with cars, tuk tuks, and scooters to a bustling thoroughfare of market stalls brimming with a vibrant array of tastes, smells, sights, and sounds.
On our first morning in Chiang Mai we stepped outside our hotel in the Old City onto Ratchadamnoen Road with a map in hand but really with the intent to just allow our feet and eyes to lead us. One block later we came to our first wat.
I'm just about to climb over the top of the gate and into the elephant barn to join Lek Chailert as she softly sings lullabies to Faa Mai and the other elephants in the barn, when Kim loudly shouts my name in a panicked voice. I look down towards the ground just in time to see my backpack – filled with my camera, lenses, audio recording gear, and travel notebooks – get whisked away into the darkness by an errant elephant trunk.
"If anyone wants to know what elephants are like, they are like people only more so." -Pierre Corneille.
In just one short week we will finally be on our way to Thailand. This trip is all about elephants, and we'll be spending our time volunteering at two different sanctuaries where captive elephants rescued from lives filled with hard labor and mental and physical abuse have an opportunity to spend their days in as natural a state as possible.