To everyone that knows me well I have a soft spot for elephants. Something about their calmness and grace soothe me.
I first found my love for them when I visited Ayuttaya in Thailand in 2013. Unfortunately it was at a riding attraction. I was unaware of the abuse to these gentle giants and had probably accepted that chains were the answer to human safety. When we climbed aboard I could instantly sense the hostility between the Mahout and Giant. He was dressed in his entertainment clothes, hurrying us along, holding a spear like fork. I thought it may have been incase a situation happened, possibly fighting with another elephant. But I was wrong..
Our route was around a dirty, dusty roundabout walking inbetween cars and tuktuks. An elderly monk crossed the road infront of us and in the blink of an eye I heard a deep, echoed crack travel through my fingers that were admiring the elephants treelike skin. It was in fact, the Mahout. He had smashed this beautiful animal in the skull and he stood dormant.
I will never forget that feeling In my stomach, a responsible guilt. I swore to myself I would never ride an elephant again. I hate to think nearly 4 years on that beautiful giant is probably navigating the same roundabout, with the same evil spirit clambered on his moneymaker.
When I visited the second time round I wanted to do it properly. I visited an elephant sanctuary in the highest hills of Chiang Mai. An organised trip by my hostel. There wasn’t a chain, rope, chair or spear insight.
A Mahout has a choice. It’s a profession passed down in their family and the elephant remains with them for the rest of their life. Many do use this as an opportunity to make money, becoming greedy and putting their elephants through torture and ridiculing regimes. Forest logging and tourist attractions are the main ones. Dying from exhaustion and mistreatment.
The sanctuary I visited not only rescued the elephants but also the Mahout. Giving them a small fee to stay there and have their elephant provided for. Giving them a peaceful life. If you own an elephant in Thailand you have a bounty on your head. The baby boy below was worth 2.5million Baht, thats just under £55,000. A hell of a lot of money to not have protected.
The Sanctiary had just started and there was a handful of elephants within the family. We met them all, learnt their stories and how they rescued them. We met a 55 year old pregnant female who had been a forest logger for 30 years. Her eyes told everything.
On a brighter note, after we had met the family we had lunch over looking a beautiful waterfall. Then it was time to get mucky. We had a mud bath!
Mudfights and playtime. It was the best experience I have ever had (even if I was covered in poo!) to have the babies trumpeting with excitement and playing with us is something I will treasure forever. But obviously you can’t walk around dirty.. Time for a bath!
My message is to anyone looking for an experience of a lifetime or a photo opportunity to do your research. Respect yourself and your planet. These animals are to be remembered and cherished in a time of war, politics and money. You can do something to prove we aren’t all out to seek these things. Support what you believe in.
A tribute to the animal I love, a tattoo! It’s the least I could do!
Embrace what makes you different – Dumbo Disney