Rehabilitating Abused Elephants
Anyone who visits Thailand quickly learns that Thais hold a special place in their hearts for elephants. Famous symbols of the country, elephants were important in battle. The Thai government regularly used them to remove illegal stores of valuable teak logs that poachers kept in remote areas. Trained as calves starting at age four, they learned how to work with their rider (mahout), mounting and dismounting. By the time they were ten, they were ready to become full-fledged beasts of burden, kneeling down, picking up the logs, then rolling, and dragging them out of the forest. They’d haul two tons of wood half a mile without a break. Finally, at the age of 60, they’d be retired and set free to live out their last ten years or more in the wild.
To this day, elephants are still associated with royalty and play an important role in Thai culture. They are presented at national festivals throughout the country and are admired for their intelligent and gentle nature. One Thai legend has it that marriage is like an elephant—the husband is the front legs, steering the way; the wife is the rear legs, providing the power.
Unfortunately, many of the country’s elephants have been taken from the wild and mistreated and neglected. They are brought to the big cities like Bangkok and forced to wander the streets, where they are subjected to broken pavement, unclean air, and polluted gutters.
At our camp, guests are taught how to care for them, feed them, train them, and ride them—all the while learning to respect these amazing creatures. As part of our mission to provide healthcare, nourishment, exercise, and veterinary care, we support our neighbouring foundation care for rescued elephants.
Since it was established in 2006, the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation has successfully saved 32 such elephants, accompanied by their entire mahout family. John Roberts, the director and creator, explains, “Logging with elephants is now outdated, which leaves man and beast jobless, except for what the tourist industry can offer. We quickly learnt that if we bought the elephant from his mahout the money only enabled the man to go and get another animal to continue in the only occupation he has ever known. We decided to offer a package deal where the mahout and his elephant take up residence in our reserve.”
It’s easy to fall in love with these calm and noble creatures. When treated with respect, they are good-natured and sociable, and interacting with them is a satisfying experience. Some visitors become so attached to their three-ton friends that they extend their stay in Thailand—proof that when treated properly, elephants can be man’s best friends.