OMG - OMG - OMG....where do I start. What an amaaaazzzzing experience the elephant sanctuary has turned out to be and I don't know if I will do it justice here.
Some facts first - 95% of the forest in Thailand has been destroyed until 1989 when the government ceased all logging permits. This meant that a large number of elephants that worked in the industry were in effect unemployed and of course a lot of the natural habitat was destroyed. As a consequence only 1500 elephants have survived out of a population of 50,000.
The sanctuary was started in 1995 with only 4 elephants and another strong woman was the creator (what is it with you women:-)). Here name is Lek Chailert. The sanctuary she has built with volunteers along the way is a haven for elephants who have suffered terrible injuries and/or abuse and ignorance through their working lives.
Almost immediately upon arriving, Elliot was taken aside by our guide and taken to see a 1 month old baby, called Fah Mai (born unto this world) and before we knew anything he was sat with Lek (although we didn't know it was her until later) and was playing with this 1 month old, 130kg baby. It was one of the most moving things I have seen and I've captured it on video for Elliot to post later.
The rest of our day involved feeding them and watching a video about the work of the sanctuary. Part of the video showed the horrific suffering elephants still go through today to be broken and in essence obey and rely on their owner. I don't want to describe it on here but if you should ever see an elephant in a street market in BKK, then please rest assured it's journey there, will not have been a nice one.
At the end of the day, we were introduced to some of the 'Mahouts' who provide 24x7 love and friendship to the elephants and in essence become their surrogate (Lex will spend at least 3 months every day with the calf, it's mother and a Mahout - the fact they were there is why Elliot was 'trusted' by the Mother to enter the enclosure).
We then proceeded to the river and spent over an hour bathing and scrubbing them, . Avoiding the poo was a challenge, but hey it was only 'fibre'. Reflecting on the first day it was clear what a wonderful place it was and how the inspiration of one women had created somewhere unique and special.
Dinner that night with the volunteers who were there for longer was good fun and we had a Thai lesson, details on the next days tasks and the proverbial massage. Get this - a deep tissue oil massage for Elliot and I(total 2ish hours) was equivalent of GBP6 and I pay circa GBP60 for an hour in the UK. Good thing is the camp bring in the local villagers to do this, so aiding the local economy again.
Breakfast at 7.00 - clear out the poo - prepare the food (an elphant will consume 300-500ibs of food over an 18 hr day) etc. a normal day but all this before 1000!
We then went on a walk with a small, talkative, tattooed American lady called Georgie who walked us around the forest enclosure introducing us to each elephant and given us a story about each and every one. Very funny and informative.
Something special then happened - Elliot and I were quietly summoned by Lek and this time we both went into the baby enclosure and then we spent over 2 hours with him and his Mother. This thing climbed all over me and it was unbelievable and just an honour to be in the presence of these great animals.
Feeding time again and this time one elephant, Mamie had to 'kiss' Elliot and I for some extra treats. Very funny and Ladies, the bar has been raised, this was a serious kiss.....
For the rest of the afternoon, whilst Elliot hung out with his new best friend 'Lex' I spent the time at the river watching and interacting with the elephants before we both enjoyed our last bath time. What a laugh. What an honour. What a privilage - a great memory for Elliot and I to have forever and should you ever visit Thailand, I urge you to push the boat out and visit this wonderful place. The website is http://www.elephantnaturefoundation.org/
We went back to our Clay House homestay and had a nice meal with the whole family and the next day we departed for the next stage of this journey, to Chiang Rai, which is real country and I've some stories to tell. I'll update the blog with the last 2 days in the North shortly.