Tears are starting to form around the edges of my eyes as I stare intently at the “FX” stamped on the lower corner of the camera David Ridgen’s using to film our interview. I’m trying to hold my composure and keep my concentration intact, but it’s too late. My voice starts to crack and in my mind I’m berating myself for breaking down while trying to answer a seemingly innocuous question. I can’t even properly recall what he’s asked me, but what I’m trying to do is explain how heartbreaking it is to watch Medo, one of the elephants in sanctuary at Elephant Nature Park, walk.
These are the most caring and sentient creatures on earth, yet they suffer so horribly at the hand of man.
Of all the elephants here 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. Our first morning after breakfast watching her slow, painful, angular gait as she made her away towards the river burned itself indelibly into my soul, and every morning during our stay at ENP I’d anxiously wait for Medo and her friends to appear; silently watching, trying to keep my composure. David asks me something like, “What would you say to her?” And my reply is along the lines of, “I’d ask for her forgiveness for all the pain she’s suffered at our hands.”
At the age of eight Medo was put to work in a logging camp where she spent four years hauling timber up and down mountainsides until one of her rear legs was broken in an accident. The bone never set, and unable to work and generate income for her owners she was forced to breed until a large tusker in musth decided instead to attack her. Chained up by all four legs and unable to escape, Medo was pinned to the ground by the bull elephant’s tusks and her back was dislocated. It took years for her to recover as best she could, and for the next decade-plus she was hidden and isolated; an embarrassment no camp would hire, yet still made to haul what logs she could by her owners. When Medo was rescued and brought to ENP she hadn’t seen another elephant in fifteen long years.
I’d watch her walking slowly behind her mahout, her hips falling hard back down on her rear legs with every stride. And while she didn’t appear to be in pain when she moved, it’s hard to imagine that shifting almost three tons of body weight awkwardly across a dislocated back and broken leg with every stride doesn’t have a degenerative effect on her body. It’s heartbreaking to watch, but it’s also heartwarming to see Medo with her two best friends, Mae Lanna and Sao Yai. Each morning they’d trumpet, squeak, rumble, and trunk thump to each other as they made their way across the grounds. Medo would run with them in short bursts until her injuries pulled her up short, forcing her to pause. But every time Mae Lanna and Sao Yai would patiently wait for her. Every time. Finally unshackled and unburdened from years of abuse, Medo looked happy. There was joy in her life and in her eyes. Every elephant here has a similar story, but for some reason hers has resonated deeply with me. She’s stolen my heart, unequivocally.
“You know,” David says, lifting his face away from his camera, “she’s been standing behind you the entire interview.”
No, I didn’t.
“Would you like to go and meet her?”