Each morning while we were eating breakfast, Wassana, Lotus, and Pang Dow, aka the Gossip Girls, strolled past us on their way to eat the banana feast we had gathered for them earlier that morning. When these three lovely ladies get together there is much squeaking and trumpeting because, like all close girlfriends, they enjoying sharing secrets, laughing, and doing a bit of gossiping while they eat a great meal together. The only thing missing were the martinis and cosmopolitans. But life was not always so blessed for these three best friends.
The most important thing in your life is family. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.
-Carrie Bradshaw, “Sex and the City”
Forty-something Wassana lost part of her foot when she stepped on a landmine, and despite her injuries she was forced to work long hours in the trekking industry during tourist season, and in the illegal logging trade off-season. Logging is a difficult and dangerous job under the best circumstances, and with only half a foot the hardship and risks were multiplied. Despite this, she was commended by her owner as a hard worker, but how long could she continue before she injured herself further? Luckily, Wassana’s life was forever changed when she was rescued in 2010. Maybe it was the trait that made her work hard even when she was in pain and being abused, but she’s proven to be a spunky, cheeky lady that goes after what she wants. In the few days we spent at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary she stole watermelons straight out of a truck that were intended as a Father’s Day feast for the bulls, and then went on to steal the fruit laid out as an offering in the Ganesha hut. But no one is really concerned about her kleptomaniac tendencies; it really is just a source of fodder for the Gossip Girls and all the staff at BLES.
There’s also a more sensitive side to Wassana which we were witness to on a few occasions when she comforted her friend, Pang Dow, who is in her twenties and is the youngest of the trio. Pang Dow started her life begging on the streets and was then sold to a trekking camp to carry tourists on her back for ten hours a day. She was next sold into the illegal logging industry, but because of a broken leg that never properly healed she was physically not capable of doing this demanding work. Just when Pang Dow was about to be sold into a forced breeding program BLES was able to quickly come to her rescue. It was a rough start at first; she was confused and aggressive. At this point she had been shuffled around so many times in her short life she probably just assumed she was on her way to another abusive owner, wondering what tortures were coming next. Time and patience have helped her heal, but she’s still a sensitive girl. When mischievous Mee Chok comes strutting by, she gets very nervous and will walk off to any distant corner to get away from him, even if he isn’t giving her the time of day. But good friend Wassana will follow her and provide comfort and protection until the young bull wanders off in another direction. Witnessing moments like this is when you realize these animals have a very real understanding of each other’s feelings and a great sense of compassion.
A trio is not complete without its third member and that would be Lotus, aka The Diva. She was a former trekking elephant and was also used in a forced breeding program. She developed a very bad foot infection which made her unable to work and she was kept on a chain on a busy, noisy roadside with nowhere to go and nothing to do. When BLES rescued Lotus she was ready and willing for a change. She may have figured nothing could be worse than what she’d already been through, but more likely she sensed life was going to become immensely better for her. She readily left her chains behind, got on the truck with no coaxing, and immediately made herself at home at BLES by gobbling up all the best tasting fruit trees. While it took her awhile to make friends, she adapted well from the start and today is one of the most out-going members of the herd and basks in the attention and admiration of human visitors.
Because of their good nature, we were fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with Wassana, Pang Dow, and Lotus. Besides sharing breakfast side-by-side with them, we accompanied the Gossip Girls on their morning walks and were able to witness intimate moments, such as when they would indulge in a mud bath together, or when Lotus got an abscess drained and her feet treated while her friends stayed nearby keeping a watchful eye. Observing these elephants interact, there’s no doubt that their friendship has helped ease their mental scars and the encouragement they give one another gets them through their physical challenges. Once again, elephants prove to be an inspiration and role model for us all.