Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Day at the Elephant Nature Park

We went to the park for an overnight visit, the Elephant Nature Park, that is. I was there for three reasons: 1st I had promised ArSee that I’d come see him soon, 2nd there was a list of photographs I had been asked to produce and 3rd it was time for a day of peace and serenity. I’m here to report all three were well accomplished. I can’t possibly put all the photo’s in this blog article. If you want to see the set just go to: I will share a few of the highlights with you here.  It was rainy, misty and magical.

Through the rain comes magic light

Without the Elephants, there would be no purpose to the park. These creatures are the why behind all the hard work that is done. Without the volunteers the task would be impossible. Fortunately there are both elephants and volunteers to make all this possible. Here are a few photo’s with little to no explanation required

Hope gets a snack from Nancy

Aaron and his new friend

Jokia, Jerry, Maliwan and Mae Perm

Happy Elephant

Michelle and two of her fans!
(Michelle is a long time volunteer who is simply amazing)!

Dr Pradith keeps the animals healthy

Volunteers are also dog lovers
Come to the park! Spend the day. Maybe, just maybe, you will fall in love with the animals, the people and the magic that is the Elephant Nature Park. Please forward this to all your friends and please elect to follow this blog. Thank you.

9 year old Tong Suk (Jungle Boy)
This is one handsome young elephant!

ArSee has a girl friend and it's Mae Lanna!
ArSee will be easy to recognize; he has only one tusk

Abundant Blessings,

Jerry Nelson

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Rescue of ArSee

His name is ArSee. It used to be a bit different but was changed because the old name sounded vulgar in English. Besides, many of the elephants at the park are given new names when they arrive. Some were traumatized to the point that they would have a bad reaction to the sound of their old name. The new name, to me, signifies a true new start for these magnificent creatures; something they deseve.

ArSee, as we found him

I had the distinct pleasure of accompanying the crew of staff and volunteers to Chiang Rai on July 31st. We went to a small trekking village just outside of town to pick up the newest member of the Elephant Nature Park family. On the way up we stopped at a market and bought and elephant size portion of fruit and vegetables, knowing that ArSee would need some food for his trip to the park. The next stop was at the edge of town where the purchase took place.

The contract is signed

ArSee's registration papers / birth certificate if you will

Camera Lek and Jerry
The shot was her idea and we both took one at the same time

We then went to the village to meet the elephant. I was really saddened by his condition, but at the same time delighted because I knew that from that day forth his life would only get better!  Remeber, in Thailand a domestic elephant has no rights under law.  Legally this icon of Thia history is livestock and the owner can do with him as he wishes.  ArSee is exactly why I love the ENF and the ENP.

Chains and a rope through his ear; his everyday routine

My first time to see ArSee (Photo by Camera Lek)

After spending several minutes feeding him and introducing ourselves we walked him down the road to a place where he could easily climb on the “jumbo express”.  I think I’ll suggest to the foundation that they paint the names of every elephant they rescue on the side of the truck. It would be sort of like notches on a gun handle only to mark the saving of lives.

Mo and ArSee on the way to the truck

ArSee was an easy load. It took less than 15 minutes to encourage him to get on board. I’m told by the staff that sometimes it takes two or three hours to load an elephant on the truck.

ArSee examines his ride

Once he was on board, they took off his basket. His chain came off too!

Off comes the basket
On Board!
The truck was loaded and ArSee secured for his ride to his new home. I jumped in the van and we headed back to Chiang Rai. Good luck! The driver chose a route back to the main road that took me directly in front of my house. I got out promising myself I would visit ArSee as often as I can, at least every month or two. 

All the good photographs I took that day are on line at  Enjoy!

My first visit to ArSee was August 27th and 28th. He is currently isolated because of not being accustomed to all the other elephants, especially the bulls, and he’s in musk. Guess what? He has a girlfriend! Mae Lanna came charging, literally, across the field to be with him a couple hours before I went to see him.  The photo below says a lot!

Mae Lanna and ArSee

More on this story next time, for now please don’t feel sorry for ArSee he’s in a great place. Do remember that it takes a lot of work and often a whole lot of money to rescue an elephant. They need your help!

Abundant Blessings,


Be Careful!

The Elephant Nature Foundation is a marvelous organization that does what it says; an organization that is run by people who care and who are honest. Unfortunately there have been at least two organizations pop up with the stated purpose of raising funds for the Elephant Nature Park. Monies have been raised but not delivered. If you want to help the Elephant Nature Foundation, and I hope you do, please contact the foundation directly. If you are tempted to go through another organization; please check with the real Elephant Nature Foundation first and do your own research. references. Please visit  Donate, come and volunteer, spread the word, do what you can and be careful that your efforts and funds go where you intend!
This is only possible with your help!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Journey

Elephants, Mahouts, the economy, perfect land and an opportunity to help. The Elephant Nature Foundation sponsored and funded the Journey to Freedom for seven elephants. The elephants walked through the jungle for two days to reach a village called Ban Mae Satop. You won’t find it on most maps. It’s about six kilometers from Mae Chaem in Chiang Mai province. I had the honor of walking with them for the last leg of their journey on Thursday July 29th. It was an amazing experience!

Road Side Break
Walking with this group I could sense the pride in the mahouts. Tomorrow they would release the elephants into the jungle where they will live without fences, chains or other restrictions. Their relationships will not end, but they will change significantly. It will be an adjustment; one that has been successfully made with other elephants. Spirits are high; a light rain falls cooling the jungle and all who inhabit. I was delighted to walk in the rain; I even learned which camera rain covers work for me and which ones don’t.
A pleasant walk in the rain
This group of elephants had been working in the tourist trekking business. The economy is not what it once was and the mahouts wanted to find a way to take care of their own family obligations and at the same time do what was right by the elephants. There is excellent background information at written by people who know far more than me.

Ban Mae Satop is a Karin village; the home of generations of elephant owners and mahouts. In fact the white elephant at the Elephant Nature Park, Mae Boon Ma, belongs to a village elder. He and his family have been involved with ENF for years. The people of Ban Mae Satop are a natural fit for a community development program by the Elephant Nature Foundation. Volunteers have been coming to the village for some time. They have helped with roads, schools and have even built shower and toilet facilities. The hope is that with a start from the ENF, this village will develop a completely self sustaining project. They are well on their way.

Right at home and completely welcome
The people are entirely gracious and happy to share their homes and their food with us. Yes they receive a bit of home stay compensation from the foundation, but you can’t put a price on genuine hospitality. These people are genuine. Their dialect of Thai is Northern and I’m guessing mixed with a lot of Karin words. I couldn’t understand any of it and they couldn’t understand me. Still they made it perfectly clear that I was their most welcomed guest.

I stayed in their home, they were wonderful!
First thing on Friday morning there is a gathering of volunteers. We receive a brief history lesson and a blessing from the village sharman and the village elder.

The Blessing
No great occasion would be complete without a group photo. Somewhere is another version with me in it, but that's so not important. Note the red garmets worn by everyone. These are traditional Karin ceremonial garments. Red is the prevalent color. There are more than 30 different Karin tribes in Southeast Asia. These people are known as Red Karin.

Yuppers it's a group photo!
Next stop is the village school. The students have the volunteers dancing for them; this in addition to the usual greetings and exchange of lessons.

The last thing before we leave is witness the release of 5 elephants, one bull, 3 females and the most adorable baby. Think of it! This baby will grow up being an elephant. He won’t be subjected to the “phajaan”, or otherwise abused. He’ll be a real elephant. We walked with them to a point about 2 kilometers from the village. I should mention that there were actually seven elephants on this journey. One is another bull, and you just can’t force bull elephants to hang out together. The other is a female who is expecting her baby any day and is being looked after at the village elephant shelter.
The release will be a real adjustment. The elephants have spent years being chained every night, doing everything on command of their mahout and relying on humans for their care and feeding. We walked with them to a point about 2 kilometers from the village. The mahouts led them into the forest and we watched. The elephants just stood there, the mahouts tell them to “bpi” which means go. After some encouragement they ambled deeper into the jungle.

Please understand these elephants have been released rather than abandoned. Their mahouts are from this village and will continue to watch over them. Tourists will come and have an opportunity to see them in a more natural setting. No rides, no fences and no plastic bags. It’s a beautiful thing!

Abundant Blessings!


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Street Elephants

Welcome to the new blog, Asian Elephant Stories.  I do hope you decide to follow along, just click the follow button on the right. I will promise to write the truth as I see it and will provide lots of photographs along the way.   This first posting is about the street elephants, chosen because you just might see one during your travels.

Many people will tell you that one of the charming things about Thailand is that when you visit you may have an opportunity to meet and feed an elephant on the streets of the town or city where you are staying. Yes, gentle reader it’s a touristy thing to do, but I’m here to tell you it’s just wrong on several levels. Towards the end of this article, I’ll try to explain why we are faced with this particular “tourist choice”. I encourage you to simply NOT participate.
Just let them go, but do let me know where you saw an elephant.

First you may want to know that there was a law passed recently which not only forbids the mahouts from bringing their elephants into the city but authorizes a 10,000 THB fine and up to six months in prison for the mahout and a 10,000 THB fine for the tourist. (The law was written for Bangkok but could be applied to Chiang Mai and other cities as well). There is a history of laws prohibiting street elephants, but never before have the consequences been so severe. Will they be enforced, or is this just a political appeasement of who I wouldn’t know. Personally, I’m not taking a chance!

Second and most importantly, elephants simply do not belong on city streets. It’s dangerous for both the elephant and the tourists. Think about it. Here is an elephant in a crowded market and someone does something stupid like poking him. One swipe of the trunk and you have a very seriously injured person, who may or may not be the idiot who poked the elephant in the first place. There are other factors to consider:

She walks the streets for hours!

a. Elephants have extremely sensitive feelers in their feet. They are designed to be able to detect movement of other animals in the forest. Can you imagine the sensory overload they suffer on city streets? The streets are often hollow, always extremely noisy and loaded with vibrations from trucks, cars, buses, tuk tuk and people. Imagine taking a huge stethoscope and putting it down on a city street and then piping the noise through amplifiers into your ears! Now crank the amps up all the way!

Young mahout and a young elephant, they are both overwhelmed.

b. These elephants are usually babies. They are smaller and cuter and easier to manage than adults. It’s just sad.

Not where she should be!
c. The mahouts usually keep their elephants outside the city. They often camp in trash dumps and other such locations. Sometimes the elephants have fresh water but often not. They almost always have insufficient food. Remember that a healthy elephant should eat about 10% of it’s body weight every day; that's a lot of food!

d. Elephants have frequently been the victims of traffic accidents, especially in Bangkok. At one point there was a law passed requiring elephants to be equipped with “tail lights”. They are often seen with them attached to their tails. I’m sure that helped, but not much. Elephants are grey and blend with the night. Several accidents have occurred when a bus or truck had “T-Boned” and elephant.

e. Feeding the elephants only encourages the illegal activity, and I can assure you the little bunch of bananas that the mahout sells you for 20 baht will end up in that elephants stomach with or without your contribution.

Many years ago, mahouts were invited to bring their elephants to Bangkok for some event or another. Since that day it’s been an easy way for mahouts to make a little extra money, if not a living. Hey there are documented stories of mahouts working the elephants all day and then causing them to beg on the streets most of the nights. It’s cruel but it happens.

Logging was banned in 1979. This was a good thing and a bad thing. Many elephants and their mahouts were out of work. The ban is often blamed for causing the street begging, but it was going on years before that. There is a lot more that can be written about this subject, but for now let me just suggest a couple of links (if you are interested, that is).

The last time I was in Bangkok I was told by a couple of people that the elephants haven’t been coming into town since the last crackdown. I’m back in Bangkok the 1st part of September, let’s see. There may be another article on this subject in the next few weeks. In the meantime I’ll be posting articles about an elephant journey to freedom and the rescue of an elephant in Chiang Rai. Stay tuned, stay healthy and stay happy.

What can I say?

Abundant blessings,