This damn post is taking forever! I have put such pressure on myself, like I am solely responsible for turning everyone who reads my blog into a Warrior for the Elephants. Intellectually I know I’m not, but… A few of you might have noticed I am a tad passionate about animals. Really. A few months ago a FB friend de-friended me. 😦 Now she wasn’t a close friend (thank gawd, otherwise this could have been a much tearier post) but I really like her so I was quite hurt. Turns out the stuff I was re-posting about all the bad crap that happens to animals was freaking her out. Her beloved dog had just passed on and she just couldn’t take it anymore. I get that, I totally get that. There are days when my heart literally aches for those animals. But here’s the thing: if we don’t know what is happening, we can’t help fix it. If we don’t know any better, we’ll just keep doing harmful shit. But how can we share information with people and not repel them?
Cause if that happens, hon, we are just preaching to the choir! So that is why this post is taking so long, I don’t want to repel, I just want to share some of the knowledge I got while at the Elephant Nature Park. So here goes. Most of the people I know have been to Thailand and all of them (I think) have ridden elephants and/or bought elephant paintings and every last one of them love animals. I know they didn’t think they were hurting them, they just didn’t know the back story.
I was lucky, I found Lek, the founder of the Elephant Nature Park, and was able to learn about that back story. Lek, the founder of Elephant Nature Park, gave a talk one evening for everyone in the park who wanted to drop in; needless to say, it was standing room only. She has completely committed her life and soul to saving elephants (not to mention all the other critters she can’t say ‘no’ to). That night she deputized each of us to be ‘Warriors for the Elephant’. Instead of money (though Goddess knows the need for that never ends), she wants us to raise awareness. Lek is knows that Thailand’s economy depends on tourist dollars and as such, sees a boycott as counter-productive. Instead she wants us to vote with our money. So how do we become Warriors for the Elephant?
Personally I wanted to wield a machete but apparently that is not sanctioned by head-office. 🙂 Say ‘Yes’ to places like the Elephant Nature Park and Boon Lot Elephant Sanctuary, where the elephants/human encounters are more peer-like. You will get to feed them, make friends and relax and watch how they are when they are not stressed and freaked. Way cooler.
The park will even give you human treats and refreshments. You will also get to go into the river with some and give them a ‘bath’, which usually translates into the people get more wet that the elephants but it is soooo fun! At home we can refuse to go to circuses and zoos, instead spending our entertainment dollars on things that support wildlife in their natural environment. Hiking on trails in nature, bird watching in the wet lands, only going whale watching that is respectful of the animals; these are some of the choices we can make that make a positive impact. Also subscribing to cable channels like ‘Oasis’ is entertaining and educational. When you are in Thailand, don’t feed the street elephants, the impact on these sensitive animals being in the city is brutal. They are often hit by cars and truck; drunks torment them, often being violent. Their feet and ears are so sensitive to vibrations and sounds that it has been proven they can communicate with other elephants up to 40 miles away. Imagine what the pavement and the noise and vibrations do to them? They are in a constant state of shock. The babies are traumatized because in the wild they are never apart from their mothers and aunties and nurse at least 2 1/2 years. When all the action ends in the entertainment areas they are trudged “home”miles away to under a bridges, hiding from authorities, to forage in the garbage for something to eat. They need up to 660 lbs. of food daily, the little they had manage to get by begging doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what they need to survive.
Instead choose elephant parks that provide a natural, non-stressful environment for the elephant. Just spending time with an elephant is such an honor as well as a moving experience, so much more than riding her. If you absolutely need to ride an elephant, choose a place that allows you to ride on his neck, which is one of the strongest parts an elephant’s body. Refuse to go on a howdah (wooden seat). An elephant’s back is herweakest point and not made to carry weight; also the straps cause chafing, going untreated and often getting infected. And, of course, there is the ever present hook. You will be told it never hurts the elephant, that it is only to guide them, that their hides are thick and tough. They are thick but not tough, that is why elephants are constantly trying to protect it from the sun by swimming and then throwing dirt all over themselves and using mud baths. The hooks hurt and they cause bloody wounds. I could easily torment you with details and videos of the “back story” of how elephants come to be at the trekking companies, painting pictures, playing music, playing at the beach, there are plenty of them. I will list links, if you are interested in the details but I won’t force you to see it. Just know that it is ugly beyond comprehension. Elephants have been roaming this earth longer than us, over 14,000 mind-boggling years. And now they are in real danger of disappearing for good, because of us. The families stay together forever and the babies are raised by their moms as well as their aunties. Elephants have complex social relationships and experience joy and grief as much as we do. They don’t ever forget, but lucky for us, they often forgive. They deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
Please share this information with your friends and urge them to pass it on to their friends. This is how a good warrior works these days, but just in case I am going to keep my machete sharpened. 🙂
In case you want more info check out the links below:
- The video: Vanishing Giants made by National Geographic
- Video of the pajaan (the crushing) this is what every ‘domestic’ elephant goes through as a baby. Every one. If you watch it remember that babies stay with their mothers and aunties until they are 11 and if the are female, then for their whole lives. Babies are never alone, always touched and made to feel they are the center of the universe. Breaking the spirit of the elephant.
- Great posting about what “to do” and “not do” in Chiang Mai by d’ travels around.
- Lek’s, founder of the Elephant Nature Park and mother to all elephants, bio
So what do you think? Are you repelled? Are we still friends?