Sunday, November 28, 2010

Surin, the parade of elephants

Surin Parade & Elephant Buffet
A parade, complete with marvelous floats and many elephants came through the streets of Surin.  At the end of the parade route is the famous elephant buffet, which was made short work of by these marvelous creatures.
Thailand is a land known for it’s contradictions.  The population is mostly Buddhist and any monk will tell you the first thing to know is that we should do no harm to any living creature.  The Thai elephant is a revered part of history.  The traditional Kwan Chang learned about the elephant from their fathers and grandfathers.  It was a most honorable profession and the people cared for their elephants for a life time.  True they subscribed to the brutal training methods, but at the end of the day proved loyal to their elephants.   Today it’s not the same.  Elephants are owned by business men and rented to young men and boys who appear to have no respect for the animals in their care.

Elephants on the side walk
I was told that street begging was banned in Surin during the festival.  Apparently the police didn’t get that memo.  It seemed that every baby elephant in Surin was on the streets, some of them on the sidewalks.     

One of the first things I saw was a cute baby with a ribbon on her head.  On second look the ribbon was a vain attempt to disguise the abuse this baby is enduring.  The entire top of her head is inflamed with puncture wounds caused by the pick strikes.  The purple is mercurochrome actually.  The day of the parade and the next day we saw this poor baby and took many photographs.   The mahout even complained to the police that the foreigners were harassing him.  The police got a great laugh out of that one!

Not so cute up close!
Cameras surround him, he's busted!!
Ivory, hotly disputed because so many elephants have been butchered, was for sale everywhere.  I will grant you that no harm comes to a dead elephant when his tusks are used for jewelry.  Stealing tusks from live animals, maiming them in the process, killing the elephants because they provide beauty; these acts leave me aghast.  The Buddhist make medallions from gold, silver, wood and other materials.  I’ve seen them made of ivory in the past, and one could imagine a kwan chang having one made as a relic from an elephant who died.  Surin was the first time I was ever exposed to the sale of Buddhist medallions made from elephant hide!   From the same vendor I could have bought the end of an elephant tail!   Make your own choices, but rest assured no such things will ever darken my door!  


There were loudspeaker announcements in Thai and English.  As an American, I’m sorry to report that the English language voice was American and either he was reading a very poor script or is a dumb as ditch water.  One thing that he said was that elephants don’t have stomachs, just very long intestinal tracks and that’s why they have to eat so much.  Another statement he made was that elephants are loners and only because of the great talent of the mahouts could so many elephants be brought together.  Partial truths make good marketing, I would suppose.  

Even I know that female elephants form family groups within the herd.  They are very social and very close knit.  Come up to the Elephant Nature Park and observe!  Each baby would have not only it’s mother, but aunties selected by the mother to protect her.  Here at the festival many of the babies were tethered to their mothers, others were separated.

Bull elephants tend to be loners but stay within close range of the herd.  Two bulls could definitely spell trouble.  I’d credit the lack of elephant fights in Surin more to the drugs they with which they were doped than to any great talent on behalf of the mahouts. While we are on the subject, I was told of at least one human death caused by elephant fights.  That didn’t make the tourist news, did it?
Does he look wide awake to you?

Tourist Stupidity!
Gentle reader, what can I tell you?  This article could have been finished a week ago except for the fact that I came home with a case of “nasty stomach” which we will attribute to some bad “som tom” consumed on the trip.  Or was it that my body was reacting to what my mind was having problems processing.  

With her mom

 Frankly the whole Surin Elephant Roundup was more than just a bit too much.  It was the consolidation of much that we would like to change.  This morning I simply share a few observations, post some photographs and let you be the judge.   There are many more images at

The parade was nice.  I like parades and next year may try for a better vantage point.

Beautiful Creativity

To be there on the street and witness so many elephants at one time is really awesome.  I can see why the tourists flock there. Who wouldn’t want to see a parade of elephants?  

I wonder how many of the tourists had any idea what they were really witnessing.  I’ll close with a quote from Tony Nelson: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity”.  One or our main goals is to educate; there much work still ahead.      

Friday, November 26, 2010

Kwanjai and Jack

“He’s / She’s too young to accomplish anything significant.”BS!   Let me make my point, gentle reader. There is a young man 9 years of age and his name is Jack.  Jack came to the Elephant Nature Park some months ago.  He became great fans with Lilly, but that was just the beginning. One morning on a walk around the park Jack learned of an elephant that had been leased to the park but would soon be returned to her legal owner.  The elephant’s fate would be working the tourists in Bangkok. Jack was upset and decided to do something! By the time he left the park determined to rescue an elephant.  His parents patiently explained to him that it was too expensive, they simply couldn’t afford it.  
By the time they were at the Bangkok Airport, Jack had convinced his parents to allow him to raise the funds necessary; again Jack is 9 years old!   By the time they had arrived at home in New Zealand, Jack had listed out the fund raising activities he would undertake. These included a kids motor cross and an internet based photo auction.  Jack’s least favorite was the auction because it was his least hands on project. Long story short Jack raised the money!   His favorite was the motor cross in which he rode.  Did I tell you he's 9 years old?
I met Jack in Chiang Mai and had the pleasure of being on the same van with him as we made the trip to Surin.  We arrived on the morning of the 18th, threw our bags in a room, had a bit of breakfast and set out to inspect elephants.  Four had been tentatively selected for resucue.   The first elephant we visited happens to be the one Jack rescued.  He chose Kwanjai (blessed one) for her new name, but I getting ahead of myself.

Glad to meet you.
The 2nd elephant we visited turned out to be a bait and switch.  She wasn’t the elephant the ENF crew had noticed earlier.  This poor girl was very ill.  She was also in the company of a family who claimed to have owned her for all her life, but couldn’t even get her name strait.  The children, children are more apt to tell the truth in any culture, told us she was there for only a couple of days. Anyway, she was very ill and no one appreciated the cheap bait and switch attempt.

Oops, wrong elephant

Healthy Elephants Do NOT rest their trunks on the ground

The 3rd elephant was secluded and had allegedly killed some 12 people in the South and 4 more after being moved to the Surin area.    Interestingly, Lek felt that if this elephant could be taken to the park and re-socialized with other elephants she just might be O.K.  There just wasn’t enough money to rescue two elephants.  When I asked Jack he simply said that they all deserved to be rescued.  Truer words have never been spoken.
Pray for her!
The 4th elephant was Tong Tae, who as you know survived less than a week after we saw him.
My First photo of Tong Tae, may he rest in peace!
Kwanjai is the name Jack chose for the elephant rescued through his effort.  Kwanjai means blessed.  When I asked Jack about the name he said that they were blessed by each other!  We cannot rescue them all, but Jack has proven that it’s possible to save them, “one elephant at a time”. 
A pinapple for my best girl
  On the way to meet the truck we stopped in the market and bought food for her.   Any one who saw her would know she was hungry.  
Jack buys fruit

Headed for the truck
On the afternoon of November 20, 2010 Kwanjai was loaded on the truck and began her journey to the park.  That girl climbed up on that truck like she knew full well it would take her to a better life.  People commented that she was one of the easiest elephants to load they had ever seen.  She obviously wanted to go.

Up you go!
Jack is on the truck, Look who is in the background.

Volunteers load Kwanjai's food tor the trip
Her bad leg must have been bothering her and in an attempt to make herself more comfortable she broke one of the supporting poles very early on the morning of the 21st.   After a brief delay she was better secured and finished her trip without incident.   Jack stayed on the truck with Kwanjai all the way to the park, about a 22 hour journey.  He could have gotten into a van at any of the several stops, but would have nothing of the idea. 

Chiang Mai bound

On the 19th I had the opportunity to hang out with Jack at the Elephant parade and buffet.  Jack is an amazing boy.  On one hand he has the maturity and courage to rescue an elephant and on the other hand he’s a very intelligent, but normal, little boy.  Jack wanted to use one of my cameras.  Yes but I want you in my line of sight at all times was my answer.  I gave him photo assignments and critiques; we had a great time.  Keeping up with an excited 9 year old is a challenge, especially in a street crowded with elephants, vendors and tourists.  At one point, I looked him in the eye and said “Jack you have a case of 9 year old ism”.  He smiled and agreed.  He stayed in line of sight for the rest of our time together!
Some of his photographs are really very good.  In fact, I can’t be positive who took some of them.  I know Jack took the one below.
Photo by Jack, can't comment on the subject  ๕๕๕

Speaking of photographs, there are several more at   Enjoy, just don’t steal!
As I write this, I’m in Chiang Rai hoping that Jack is still at the park when I return early next week.  In the meantime, I’ve another article or two to write.
Abundant Blessings,


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tong Tae

This is the first of a few articles I will post about my trip to the elephant round-up in Surin. One of the recurring blessings in my life is the opportunity to spend time in the company of Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, the founder of the Save Elephant Foundation and the Elephant Nature Park.  She is one of my spiritual teachers; I learn from watching as opposed to listening.   (Gentle reader, if it looks like I’m still in Thanksgiving mode, deal with it).

Lek, Surin Interview
One of the reasons we went to Surin was to rescue at least one elephant.  Look for an article soon about Kwan Jai and Jack.  She was rescued and is happy and safe at the ENP.   Scouts for Lek went to Surin and looked for Elephants to rescue.  One candidate was Tong Tae, a beautiful tusker, only 20 years of age, who had been horribly abused and who was very ill.   People warned me not to get too close because he’s a bull and might charge.  The truth is that he didn’t even have the energy to hold up his own head.
Owner moves him across the road

Tong Tae Rests
Both the vet and Lek told us that Tong Tae was too ill to make the trip back to Chiang Mai.  Also, it appeared that he had Elephant Herpes which is highly contagious; he would put the entire herd at risk.   The truth is they can’t all be saved, but as Antoinette so eloquently states:  it’s one elephant at a time.   Yesterday I received an email for Lek telling me that Tong Tae has passed.   I have tried for most of this morning to incorporate her thoughts and feelings in this article; I have failed, badly in fact.   I do want to share with you a few of my thoughts.
  a.  Tong Tae was one of God’s creatures who endured a life of torture at the hands of humans.  Humans who come from a culture that is supposed to revere the elephant.  Something is very wrong with this picture.
  b.  His remains were sold for a substantial amount of money.  The ivory will be valuable.  Personally I would have no problem with ivory taken from a deceased elephant, but the truth is that elephants are killed and maimed for their ivory every day.   When you see ivory for sale, ask what sacrifice the elephant made.

  c.  The Elephant Herpes in Surin is an epidemic!  It could endanger the entire elephant population in Thailand.  Frankly, had this been in most other places the elephant roundup might have been cancelled for this year.

  d.  The Asian Elephant, like it’s African cousin in serious trouble.  If these marvelous creatures are to survive we must do all we can to help them.  I truly believe that education is the key.   Surin is an ideal place to concentrate education efforts; lots of elephants and more than enough abuse.  Perhaps the Surin province could include required education and a certain amount of monitoring in their "Take me Home" project?

The Owner Profits; the Elephant Suffers! 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

October 21st at ENP

A day at the park
Oops, I almost forgot to process the photographs I took the last time I was at the Elephant Nature Park; that was the 21st of October, the day before we went to see the baby twin Elephants.   I finally finished them and they are available for your viewing pleasure at
Here are a couple of my favorites:
We love the elephants

Hope goes for a swim

Lek and the baby girl

An upcoming fundraiser:
I’d like to ask you to let me know which elephant photographs are your favorites.  I’m planning on doing some printing and selling to raise money for the foundation.  Prints will likely be canvas as well as traditional photo paper.  There will be details forthcoming, for now just help me pick the image that you think would be the most saleable.

Jerry’s Elephant Awareness Month, Continued:
Laos was once known as the land of a million elephants.  Today they are pretty scarce and those there are in constant danger of being slaughtered for their ivory or sold to the circus types in other countries.   Like the Thai the Lao revere the elephant; you can see this in their temples and such.  Below are a few shots I took in Vientiane earlier in the week.   I just love the one triple tusker!
Temple Elephant

Needs a bit of repair!
I'm sorry I didn't get a better shot of this.   To me it looks like it's part elephant and part duck.  I'm sure there is a mythological story to be learned here.  Maybe when I return to Vientiane I'll make a point of learning about this one.

Abundant Blessings,