Lunch was served in freshly cut bamboo sliced in half. We used them as plates for the noodles that were heated up on the camp fire next to a disappearing creek. My partner managed to get more noodles on his calves than into his mouth. The pack of dogs surrounded us, keeping there distance, but ready to come in for left overs when they got the chance. They slept next to us, tired after the two hour hike it took us to get to this quiet spot.
““We're trying to buy the land over there,” Emily, the girl who runs the elephant sanctuary told me, pointing beyond the river towards a lush jungle, “but the owner wants too much for it. He said if we buy it, then we have to buy all the sand on it too, otherwise he'll just sell the sand himself. It'll ruin the land for the elephants.”
Emily and her Thai partner, Burm, were in an uphill battle. They tread the line of bureaucracy and wanting to change the ways elephants had been treated in the Thai culture. “This is where they should be. In the jungle, surrounded by trees. Back in the wild. Not chained up, or in an enclosure in a big field with nothing to do.”
Later I watched, knee-deep, in the river one of the elephants rolling around in a divet she found on the other side. She scratched her butt on the river bank, then rolled onto her side, completely submerged. Thirty seconds later, her trunk emerged, shot out some water, and then returned under water. She stroked her legs through the water, just as humans do while swimming side stroke, spinning in circles. She was having fun. This was the first time in her 60-year plus life where she was enjoying her surroundings. She dragged no more logs through the forest with her trunk, she carried no more tourists on her back while her elephant trainer commanded her by thrusting a hook into the middle of her forehead. Sometimes her scar still opened. When that happened, Emily would apply an ointment to help with the healing.
The other elephant played on the opposite shore. She kicked a tire that had been left behind by some locals. We were leaving, walking back with the elephants to camp before the sun set. She didn't want to leave that tire, throwing it up in the air with her trunk, kicking it with her back right leg, amazed at why this rubber round thing continuously kept on bouncing.
In those days at the elephant sanctuary, I saw the two things I value most in life- love and freedom. These two elephants loved each other on the project. They touched each other with their trunks, whispering things to one another in squeaks and clicks. These elephants spent hours of their days free to roam, roll around, and eat all the things around them. They had no job to do. They were officially able to enjoy their retirement.
Come visit and volunteer with the elephants in their natural habitat in Thailand. Learn more about the program here.