This last week has been one of the best weeks of our lives. It was emotionally and physically difficult but ten times as rewarding. We gained a wealth of knowledge about elephants but also about Thai people, Karen people and nature. We spent five days based out of a hut sleeping on flat mats with mosquito nets around us. Other than walking our main form of transportation was standing in the back of a pickup truck, holding onto some bars. It certainly was an adventure traveling through the mountains on dirt roads like that.
On the first day we met the elephants in an open field with cucumbers. Four elephants came towards rapidly once they could smell the food. It was quite intimidating in the beginning. They are huge animals but they move softly and quickly!
In the field we also were able to watch one elephant bathe in the mud. She rolled around in the mud until covered. Elephants prefer this over water as the mud functions as sunscreen and bug repellent.
We hiked with the elephants through the jungle. It was amazing to see them in their natural environment. They were very graceful as they walked around. They left a narrow trail behind them. They eat all the time. Our guide, Yo, said they eat for about 20 hours a day. They are very skilled at selecting exactly what they want to eat; the like to eat small amounts of a large variety of plants, especially leaves and roots.
One of the elephants with us was Zuki. He had suffered brain damage and is unable to eat without supervision. His tongue does not work properly to get food through the back of his mouth; he tries to compensate using his dextrous trunk. They suspect he loses about half of his calories in his drool; he struggles to get enough to eat. Even after all of that he is still adorable and loving.
Gillie is a new elephant at the camp. She is two months old and adorable. All she wanted to do was play with us as soon as we arrived. She loves trying to step on your toes, sit in your lap and chasing us. We had to be careful to not let her sit on us or step on us because she already was 450 pounds! We loved playing with her anyways. She was still a bit wobbly like a toddler and as playful as a puppy. Spending the afternoon with her was certainly a highlight of the week.
We also worked with school children and local villagers during the week. We helped a teenager with her English homework. We were all impressed and blown away at how hard it was! We also spend a morning at the local kindergarten. We choose the room with the two-year-olds. We sang songs with them, colored, and played with legos. After that we helped serve them a hot lunch which they usually don’t get as the school doesn’t provide them. When we were about to leave one, of the kids stubbed his toe and cut it badly. We sat with him and help his hand while the nurse fixed his cut.
One of the last things we did at camp was the local villagers blessed us in a ceremony. It is a Karen tradition that visitors be blessed before they leave. We were very touched to be included in this tradition. They blessed us with long life (Until our hair turns white) and happiness.
After the ceremony we went on to spend one night inside the Elephant Nature Park. We loved the park. They have rescued 70 elephants, hundreds of cats and dog, a pig, a cow and a herd of water buffalo. They are also eco-friendly and give great support to the people that work there. We enjoyed spending time with some dogs and loving on them. All of the elephants at the park had been rescued for trekking, tourism and logging industry where they were abused and mistreated. Numerous elephants had dislocated hips, broken legs, infected wounds, blindness and mental disturbances. It broke our heart to see and hear their stories but we are happy we could help them.
We were glad we were able to have seen the elephants in their natural habitat with our Journey to Freedom program before we got to the park. Seeing the elephants in the forest was amazing – they were healthy for the most part, in their element and eating whatever they decided they would like.
We got to see a few dogs; very friendly at night, and super playful running around during the day.