Friday, January 21, 2011

Elephant Walk Part II

After bath time, we find out that we get to another elephant walk today. The nice thing about this walk is that Nat is going to take us this time. It's nice to be able to get a different perspective from volunteer coordinators. Nat is able to tell us a lot of history behind the elephants that we meet on our walk, the living one and the one that have passed away.

He takes is to a large mound covered in flowers. It's not until he points out the headstone that we realize it is an elephant grave. This is one is for Lala who died at the age of seven. When Lala was a baby, she was taken away from her mother and brought to the resort beaches of Phuket, Thailand. She was brought there for the purpose of entertaining vacationers. She would walk the beaches begging for food and as such, her diet became that of humans rather than an elephant. She was rescued six years later at the age of seven by the Elephant Nature Park. She was a very friendly elephant with the mahouts but had a little trouble socializing with other elephants since she was not raised around them. Approximately a month into her stay at the sanctuary, she laid down and refused to get up. This means one thing when an elephant does this, they will die. About 24 hours later, she died.

The ENP staff was surprised and devastated at the sudden death of Lala. An autopsy was perform on her to determine what had happened. When they removed the heart and weighed it, it was 10 time the normal weight. It was surrounded in excessive fatty tissue that one would typically never see in an elephant, but her years of beach begging resulted in a massive heart attack. I find this cruel and believe that she died of a heavy heart. Poor little thing, at least she was returned to her roots and lovingly cared for before she finally passed.

As we walk across the fields to meet the next elephant, Nat tells us a story about the herd of water buffalo that we walk by that were also rescued by Lek and reside permanently at the Sanctuary. Notice the white water buffalo to the right:

She is an albino buffalo and was rescued as a baby after her mother was killed. When she came to the sanctuary, apparently she was confused about which species she belonged to and kept going to the herd of cows, that are cream colored (much like her). The staff would bring her back to the water buffalo herd, but she would always return to the cows. It wasn't until her horns started growing that she seemed to realize that she was a water buffalo and finally returned to her herd.

The land here is actually home to many different animals, all of which have been rescued. There are 35 elephants, 70+ dogs, 10+ cats, 32 water buffalo, 18 cows, 1 pony and 1 baby black bear. Aside from the bear, who lives in a tree, little would house and all, all these animals live together on the same land, uncontained, passing by one another everyday. It says something to me that all these different animals can be living on the same piece of land, all tolerating one another, living peacefully. A trumpet or a bark or charge serves as a warning but that is it. We humans should try and learn from this.

The next elephant we see, but only form a distance, is ???. Volunteers are not permitted to get too close to her because she still has emotional issues. she is another elephant, like Lilly, was was fed amphetamines in order to keep her working around the clock. She had a shackle on her front leg with a heavy chain that her previous owners used to keep her chained when she wasn't working. While she was working, they never removed the chain but would make her carry it wrapped around her head. When she was finally rescued and brought to the sanctuary, the chain was removed. ??? was agitated and would not eat. Lek and the vet got very worried and removed her from the other elephants believing that the other elephants were causing stress. When the chain was put back on her leg to keep her from going to the other elephants, she started eating again, They were able to determine that ??? could not function unless she had her chain. It's been about three years now and they have been able to remove the chains and just have a light rope tied to ankle. She has found a natural place in one of the elephant herds as well, but as Nat says, she still has some mental pain. She is getting better, but the progress has been slow. My heart cries for these elephants who are learning how to just an elephant, and in my own way, I can understand that feeling, that mental pain. But ultimately, I am thankful for this place that has allowed them the freedom and the dignity that they deserve.