After seeing a post from the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force on how a whole bunch of elephant babies have been taken from their mothers and sold to zoos in China, I once again find myself thinking heavily about these giant but often gentle creatures.
When I was in Thailand in 2013 I was lucky enough to stay at a pretty swanky hotel in Laguna beach. I went along as my bother’s “plus one” on the Herbalife holiday that he had qualified for. Every day, after breakfast, the most beautiful elephant called Candy, came to visit the patrons of the hotel. She was such a gorgeous creature, and despite me having a broken knee at the time and therefore being very limited in my mobility, I played happily with this baby elephant and never felt endangered by her. Her owner was a sweet man as well, and after being horrified by the sight of those bullhooks that they use on the elephants when we went elephant riding, I was exceptionally happy to see that this man did not carry one. Candy, it seemed, was quite happy to follow him around like a puppy without intimidation. At least no visible intimidation. It seems silly, but to me she seemed like a happy thing. And she was cuddly and loving and she seemed to really enjoy the attention she was getting. I was completely mesmerised by her.
Last year when I went back to Thailand with my husband we skipped the elephant riding. I had enjoyed meeting those elephants before, but I kind of felt like I knew better. I had since learned about how elephants are broken in order to be useful as workers. As much as I can appreciate that it is simply part of how a culture different to mine does things, I still cannot help but find the thought unsettling. Those bullhooks are especially good at making me feel a bit nauseous.
Just before we left Phuket, however, we ended up doing a quick (and cheap) tour of a few last minute places. If I remember correctly there were two lookouts and a trip to a big Buddha (there are so many big ones!) and there was an orchid farm (ie: three orchids hanging from a wire with one flower between them) and a baby elephant petting session.
Well, this baby elephant broke my heart. She didn’t want to be there. She was anchored with a chain around her ankle which was not long enough for her to move at all. I remember wondering if the concrete she was standing on might not be burning the soles of her feet. She was nothing like Candy. She was sad. And meeting her broke my heart. I realised then that it was possible that Herbalife might have made sure that the elephant that visited us at The Outrigger was well taken care of (they do strange “little things” like that – though please note that this is an assumption on my behalf) in a non-cruel manner. I so wanted to hug this baby, but she didn’t want me to so I did not even try. Instead I placed my hand on her forehead and whispered “I am so sorry” in her ear, hoping that if nothing else her instincts might sense the deep regret I felt for her state of life.
I don’t think I am one who puts the welfare of animals before the welfare of people. I understand that one of the biggest heartbreaking truths of the world is that so many humans’ livelihoods depend on the exploitation of animals. It is how children are fed. It is heartbreaking. Take the abused little elephant chained to the ground away, and it is possible that several people will go go hungry. It sucks.
It makes all the sense in the world that people who care, in general, care more about animals than they do humans, but it seems to me that the only way to save the animals is to save the humans as well. How? Of course I have no idea.
It is easy to bemoan the idea of Zimbabwean baby elephants being shipped off to China without their mothers. It is easy because it is bloody awful. But is it possible that the exploitation itself is an act of desperation in a desperate country?
And the same can be said for Thailand. The exploitation of these animals feeds children. It’s not ok, but it is the reason. Headway is being made as far as Thai elephants are concerned and that is wonderful news(see below). But I cannot help but wonder what happens to all the people who have been using these animals to feed themselves. IS there someone helping them? Is there an organization showing them how to feed their families without selling interaction with these creatures in the streets?
Dear friends and all animal lovers. I would like to update you about some positive animal news here in Thailand. On December 26th, 2014, the Thai government has passed the first law to protect animals, in which the animal including elephant will now be protected. It has been a long time for the animal rights group that work and join hands together to fight for years and many governments.
For more than a decade, we have gathered groups to protest for animal law in Thailand; we have held too many demonstrations in front of the government house , and government officials over and over to voice and get the law to protect the animal. Our organisation has gathered many hundreds of thousands of signatures from people all around the world to help to voice for the animal and elephant , especially the street begging elephant.
It is now your voice that we can hear , even if the law has not yet reached what ever we want , but for the first start and first step in Thailand , it is still good news and we can see the future for the animal.
About the elephant: from now, Street begging is illegal, including who ever supports to buy or give money, you will be implicated in an infraction of animal law in Thailand.
Old elephant , pregnant , handicapped and sick elephants cannot be used to service tourists any more . If any of you see any animal get abused, you can complain to the authority of Thailand. I will update you regarding the details and address soon when the law begins to take effect within this year.
I would like to thank all friends, and animal organisations in Thailand who joined hands together to work in the last couple of years. Special thanks to the braveheart woman, Khun NuNa Silpa-archa, and her background supporters, who walk through the big wall and make the law success. With her strong heart and love to the animal she stood with us to fight for the animal. Thanks to all friends and supporters and Elephant Ambassadors from all around the world for your voices and your education to others . Your voice can make the difference and victory to the animal . Never give up !
Darrick Thomson Lek Chailert, Alan Ourworldnottheirs