For every day we are here our group (and there are a total of 4 groups) will rotate a different morning chore. We shoveled a total of 18 shelters and the fields and during this I learned that much can be determined about the elephant’s age and digestive system by the content and formation of the poop. Never have I been more fascinated in analyzing poop; I was constantly poking at it with my pitchfork. I seem to be quite good at this...
So is Sabine:
The older elephants (ages 60 and older) leave bigger less digested food in their... loads. The dogs that roam the fields love this and are often seen foraging to eat the treats left behind. The younger elephants leave nicely formed more digested dumps. In general, elephants discard 60% of what they eat. They spend 18 hours a day eating, 4 hours sleeping and 2 hours resting. I would shovel elephant poop any day, it has barely any manure smell and is more like the scent of cut grass.
We move the poop to a sunny exposed location so that it can be dried out and eventually used for fertilizer.
I am very impressed with the philosophy of the sanctuary which is encouraged by Lek. There is no waste here. The elephant’s poops are used for fertilizer by the sanctuary and the local villagers that grow the crops for elephants and employee and guests meals. Seeds are kept from the vegetables and given back to the farmers to grow more crops. The sanctuary keeps the farmers employed and the farmers keep the sanctuary fed. Any leftovers from employee and volunteers meals are scooped into a bucket and are served as a meal to the 70 dogs that reside here, and yes, the dogs are all vegetarians. The farmers do not use any chemical fertilizers, only elephant poop. And because the elephant poop contains 60 percent undigested food, it's like a jump start on the composting process. Very progressive on reduce reuse and recycle.
Feeling a sense of accomplishment :)
After we are done with shoveling, we WASH our hands and then move the huge baskets of the freshly cut fruits and veggies to the feeding platform. Time to feed the elephants. The elephants are all very eager to eat and find their way to their feeding location. All the elephants are beautiful but I have a soft spot in my heart for the abused and handicapped ones. This is Jokia.
Jokia has a very sad story regarding her injuries; she is blind in both eyes. She was used as a logging elephant in Burma, where it is still legal -- it's illegal in Thailand. She was pregnant and still being used for logging while in labor. She delivered her baby while working. The baby was still in the sac when it rolled down the hill and her mahout (caregiver to the elephant) would not let her go to her baby. The baby died and Jokia got very depressed. She stopped working so to punish her, her mahout slingshot stones at her right eye. She went blind in that eye. She still wouldn't work and then got angry, pushing her mahout, so he stabbed her in her left eye. She has no eye on that side. The mahout finally broke her and she began working again. My heart cried for her. Lek discovered Jokia and asked the mahout why she was still working when she was injured. When he replied that she was still young and strong, Lek immediately rescued Jokia and brought her to the Nature Park. She is the 4th elephant brought to the reserve. Here Jokia is cared for and loved and will never have to work again. Look at this beautiful girl.
Mae Perm (meaning 'luckier elephant' and who is estimated to be 90 years old) immediately adopted her within hours of Jokia's arrival at the sanctuary. Mae Perm was the first elephant at the Nature Foundation. She was well cared for by her family which is why she is so youthful in appearance and movement, but they can no longer afford her care. So Lek purchases her as the first elephant in her new foundation. Mae Perm and Jokia are inseparable and Mae Perm has become her best friend and guide. If Jokia wanders off a little during grazing, she chirps (this sound is like a seal barking) and Mae Perm chirps back and hustles over to her, caressing her face and sides with her trunk. Jokia calls for her as well when she gets scared (more of a low trumpeting sound), as we saw another day as well when the two young bull elephants, Jungle Boy and Hope, were rough housing a short distance away.
More pictures of Jokia (left) and Mae Perm (right).