Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Splish Splash, We're Giving a Bath

After lunch, we got to bathe the elephants. This happens everyday starting at 1 p.m. and occurs in shifts. First are the 'single' females: middle aged (30 - 50 years) and the grandmothers. These are the only ones the volunteers are allowed to bathe. They are the gentlest; the two boys, Hope and Jungle Boy, are rough housers, and the babies have mothers and aunts that are very protective around larger group of people. I'll elaborate on this further regarding the day trippers and one dayers.) These ladies LOVE the water and have fun rolling and splashing around. Sabine was having fun too.

I want to mention another elephant that has a special place in my heart. Her name is Mae Do and she suffers from a permanently broken back and hip. Mae Do was used for breeding as soon as she was able. But it was forced breeding, which results in the mother rejecting the baby. Forced breeding involves placing the females in a square pen that secures her in place. All four legs are tied to posts with her back legs spread and tied to posts so she cannot move. Then she is essentially raped (Lek was describing this to us as well) by the bull elephant. Mae Do went through this 40 times. On the last breeding attempt, the particular bull was in musth (heightened sexual arousal and very aggressive, often dangerous) though, and rather than simply breeding with her, he savagely attacked her, pinning her on the ground with his tusk. She screamed in pain but no one would risk coming close to the musth bull to help her. She tried and tried but could not stand. She was left lying down, bleeding and crying in agony, alone. Vets would soon determine that her backbone and hips had become permanently dislocated. These injuries were life threatening, and Mae Do fought for her life for 3 full years. For the next 15 years Mae Do spent her life in isolated and tedious toil. The owners were shameful of her condition and sought to keep her hidden. No camps would accept an elephant so marred by abuse. She has since been rescued and cared for by the Park. My heart reached out to her every time I see her limp slowly along the fields or out of the water. I can't help but want to hug her and tell her I am so sorry for what she had to go through. But she also looks peaceful and happy in her new surroundings. Lek mentioned that she gave serious thought to the amount of pain the Mae Do was going through and whether it was selfish to keep her alive. But Mae Do has never made an attempt to lay down and not get up (elephants cannot lay down for long periods of time or their organs will crushed by their weight and they will die) and she has found comfort in her herd and is playful in the water. As Ekk said, the pain in her heart has listed and this appears to ease the physical pain. And again, my heart smiles.

She lets me rub her face and as the days go on, she becomes especially fond of me and Sabine (she lets us kiss her trunk):

The second group that comes through is the 2 young males, Hope and Jungle Boy, both about 10 years old. They are not allowed to bathe with the females and babies because they are rough and are considered teenagers and somewhat naughty. This is also why we are not allowed to bathe them. The boys are the only two elephants that require 2 mahouts each. All the other elephants only have one mahout per elephant.Jungle Boy has tusks and is a little calmer than the Hope. Jungle Boy having some fun - he has tusks.

Hope is playful and spunky and is required to wear a bell around his neck so people know when trouble is coming. Jungle Boy is just getting out of the water while hope walks over for his turn in the water.

We have been warned that if we are out in the field near Hope and he starts running towards us, just step out of the way and do not run (unless you really feel like you can outrun him). This behavior is not aggression. He is still young and very playful and excited to find a potential playmate. He loves attention and getting people wet...

See how he smiles?