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!


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this information. I sense that a new era has begun, with Thailand's elephant being truly honored as the special life force they are. Thanks to ENF, ENP, and you Jerry, for documenting this paradigm shift.