Friday, February 19, 2010


This is what is known as being "kissed by an elephant." Actually, it's more like being kissed by a vacuum cleaner.

I was able to feel the suction from several inches away!

Oh, no! Here he comes again! And he's all slobbery, too!

The name of the elephant who kissed me (and kept trying to kiss me again) is "Naughty Boy."

He has to wear a bell around his neck because he's constantly getting into trouble. He seemed to have an affinity for me--how weird is that? (I really had to laugh when I heard his name--if you've been reading along this far in the blog, you know about my Naughty Boys!)

My first day with the elephants was spent at the Elephant Nature Park, a rescue center for abused and abandoned elephants. It is run by a woman named Lek, which means "small" but she is anything but small in character (though small in physical size.) She started with two baby elephants whose mothers were killed by angry villagers when, desperate for food, they raided the village crops.

Elephants are the symbol of Thailand but are in pretty bad shape across the country. For centuries, the Asian elephant has been the work horse of Thailand. In warfare, it functioned like a tank.Rare white elephants were regarded as sacred and could only belong to the King. In 1989, after two thirds of the magnificent teak forests had been logged out, the government banned logging--and put 100,000 elephants out of work.

Today, their numbers could be as low as 3,000 domestic and 1,000 still in the wild. Most are reduced to begging and lead miserable lives as they are totally unsuited to the streets of Bangkok and other cities where their delicate feet cannot withstand hot, hard pavement.

Due to Lek's efforts, 33 elephants have been rescued and now live at the center. She is waging a one-woman battle to have elephant-begging banned and to help owners realize that elephants can be better used in the tourist trade living naturally, doing what elephants do, which is fascinating enough to satisfy visitors.

A 10,000 pound animal that needs 350-400 pounds of fruits and veggies per day, plus medical care, bathing, etc. is no easy animal to keep as a pet. It has to "earn a living" somehow.

At the center, visitors are expected to pitch in with feeding and bathing the huge animals. We also watched a DVD showing the ancient, still-used method of "training" elephants. As weanling babies, they are wrenched from their mothers, chained in stocks for 4-7 days without food, water or sleep and beaten round the clock with nail-studded poles. The idea is break their spirits and make them submit totally to man. Some refuse to give in and die, while others become rogue elephants at heart, awaiting their chance to wreak revenge. Most just succumb and try to learn whatever they need to just to avoid pain.

Today, a growing number of trainers are using positive reinforcement instead of negative punishment to train elephants--and I will spend the day at one place on Sunday. It is also a breeding facility.

Each elephant at Lek's park has a wrenching story to tell. One was kept on amphetamines (And nearly died of toxicity) so that it could work round the clock logging without ever needing to rest. Another has a ruined leg from a chain that was never removed as it grew bigger. It was amazing to see how these horrendously abused but magnificent-hearted animals have rebounded and come to trust humans again when shown love, instead of pain.

May favorite elephant was named Jokia. Jokia is blind. Pregnant and about to give birth, she was forced to work in an illegal logging operation. She gave birth but was not permitted to stop working and assist her calf in getting out of its birth sack. The calf died. A grieving Jokia refused to work any longer. As punishment, they used a sling shot to cast rocks at her. She was blinded in one eye. When she still refused to haul any more logs, they blinded her in the other so she would be completely helpless and dependent upon her mahout (handler). When Lek finally got hold of her and brought her to the rescue center, she was depressed, alone and very skinny. Another elephant adopted her to serve as "her eyes." And today, she is happy, fat and free--no more chains or whippings.

Jokia did a lot of this in hopes that someone would feed her! It must have been a trick she learned once long ago. And a blind elephant has to use any tool she can to communicate her needs.

Hey, what about me?

After the elephants eat, it's time for a bath.

"Shall we go in--or do you think it's too cold?"

" Think he's getting ready to spray us with water.

I knew I wasn't going to stay dry doing this! And I didn't.

Elephants love bath time.

Me and my clean elephant.

These elephants are living the good life with their own river to play in and the chance to walk around completely free. Few Asian elephants get this opportunity.

What does an elephant do after its bath? If you've ever had horses, you know the answer!

Elephants are social creatures and devoted to their herd mates. Keeping an elephant separate from other elephants, as so many single elephant owners do, is torturing the animal just by itself.

A juvenile checks me out.

You can't help but love a curious, mischievous baby elephant. You do have to be careful around them, however. If they should squeal suddenly, every elephant in the herd--some 30 of them here--will come running to see what's wrong. They will totally surround the little one to protect it. And you do NOT want to be in the way.

Mother love...

Baby elephant learning how to sit down and get up again!

When you've got an itch, you need a good scratch!

At night, the elephants either have to be enclosed or chained up because they eat 18 hours per day and sleep very little. This means they would be roaming the countryside eating everything in sight--including crops. That's why large wilderness areas are essential to maintain them in the wild.

Lek tending to a baby elephant. This diminutive woman is the last hope for so many elephants!

Looking forward to Sunday which will be even more hands on than here at the center!


  1. Uh-oh. Looks like you've fallen head over heels in love with elephants, too! Now we're gonna have to figure out where to keep a herd of elephants on Maui. Think you could wash them in the ocean in front of MB? We think Naughty Boy knew you were coming!

    The stories of abuse are heart-wrenching. Lek is certainly a blessing to these elephants. Perhaps some publicity would help educate people about the elephants' plight. Where's 60 Minutes when you need them?

  2. that is so sad about the abuse these beautiful creatures endure! why do Thais think this is ok? you'd think they would feel guilty doing this, it just doesnt make any sense? and if they are the symbol of Thailand, why arent they treated with respect and care? good think Lek is doing what she can to help and spread the word. have Thais ever heard of Karma?

  3. Awesome ... what stories these elephants have !!
    Give them a hug for me too, please.