Mae Perm quietly lifts her trunk to caress Jokia’s face. Touching the stream of tears that constantly fall from Jokia’s blind eyes she gently places her trunk in her friend’s mouth, letting Jokia taste them. It’s a small, almost imperceptible act of intimacy that would otherwise be missed if you weren’t paying attention. 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.
“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.
Jokia’s name means “Eye From Heaven,” and its irony isn’t lost on me. She was rescued from an illegal logging camp by ENP and her story, like the stories of all the elephants we met, is one of heartbreaking abuse and heartwarming redemption. While pulling a log up a steep hillside she went into labor and gave birth, but her owners wouldn’t allow her to stop working to see if the calf was alive or dead; instead beating Jokia to force her to continue carrying the log up the hill. At the top she threw herself down in grief and refused to move, whereupon her mahouts used a slingshot to blind her in one eye in an attempt to get her to return to work. When that didn’t budge the distraught mother, they stabbed Jokia in her other eye, permanently blinding her.
Mae Perm is the first elephant rescued by Lek and ENP; and while it’s hard to imagine, this lovely lady is a sprightly ninety-plus years old. During her lifetime she was moved from place-to-place and owner-to-owner, finally settling into her forever home at ENP in 1992. She radiates kindness and loves to seek out the attention of those her around her, both animal and human. However, her first duty is taking care of her best friend Jokia – guiding her, protecting her, and being a source of companionship and comfort. Jokia is frightened of trucks, machinery, and any loud or sudden noises. Understandable, given the horrible abuses she’s endured. Mae Perm is always there to reassure her friend, putting herself between Jokia and any person, place, or situation she deems unfriendly.
Watching these two stately ladies spend time together rumbling, trumpeting, and squeaking jokes back and forth was an immense honor. I’m fairly certain at one point they were giggling about the local village ladies referring to my feet as “elephant feet,” but that’s okay. It was a privilege to move slowly and softly in their presence and bear witness to the immense love and friendship they have for one another.