Monday, June 13, 2011

Elephant Nature Foundation & Other Asian Elephants

I'm pleased, very pleased indeed to announce that Phyl Kirkland is my first guest writer for Asian Elephant Stories.  She has written a brilliant piece.  I added a few of my photographs, but Phyl is responsible for this great article.  Enjoy!!

Lek, founder of the Elephant Nature Park, devotes her life to the welfare of the Asian elephant. She has many projects in hand and is considered an expert who is frequently consulted by other people, including Governments of SE Asian countries.

Sadly, the number of Asian elephants is rapidly decreasing, largely due to the on-going ‘war’ between humans and Nature. As our population increases so we demand more and more land for ourselves, giving little or no thought to the needs of other species and the damage we are doing to the environment in general.

Fortunately there are people who can see the bigger picture and realise the long term effects of our current selfish ways.

Lek is one of these people. Elephant Nature Park currently has about 37 elephants. The number varies as elephants die, new ones are rescued and ones who are there for a year or two for R & R are taken back by their owners. (We always try to persuade the owners to let us keep the elephants but frequently we are unsuccessful.)
Lek with Fa Mai (this baby will never be tortured)!
Most of the elephants had, before coming to the Park, suffered a life of abuse – often extreme abuse. We have elephants who have been deliberately blinded, one with a broken back, several who have had broken legs which have not healed properly. Some have suffered land mine injuries and many with scars on their bodies where they have been beaten. Many are also severely underweight on arrival at the Park.
These are the phy6ysical injuries. Many also suffer from mental and emotional traumas which take much longer to heal.

Before getting too angry with the Thai people over this – and I’m not making excuses for them – please remember that there isn’t a country in the world who doesn’t abuse animals one way or another. Just think of how many animal welfare charities there are in your own country!)

Lek is constantly on the look out for sick and sad elephants and has a wonderful relationship with many of the hill tribes who contact her if they find a working or wild elephant in need.
In return Lek helps the villagers out in a variety of ways, including educating them in ways of conservation.

Once a rescued elephant is at the Park it is assured of as near a natural life as it is possible to give. It will also have all the love, food, care, attention and everything else it needs to change its life from one of overwork and abuse to one of peace and contentment.

We cannot undo the elephants past but we can ensure the best possible conditions for their future.
Elephants are very social animals and form family groups. Many of the females just love the job of being ‘Auntie’ to a baby, so if a baby is at the Park there is a jostling for the position of ‘Number 1 Auntie’ and they will change family groups in order to be The One.

Like people, every elephant is an individual with their own personality and sense of humour. Some are ‘loners’ and prefer to take their time to make just one close friend, whilst others are very outgoing and settle into a family group almost instantly. We stand back and learn about their personality then encourage which ever way they want to go.
Lek with Tong Suk (Jungle Boy) teaching the mahout best practices

Since logging was stopped the working elephants now basically fall into three groups: street/beach begging, trekking and circus-type tricks. None of these is to be recommended in any way, shape or form as all have very detrimental effects on the animals, causing them much pain and suffering.

Two of Lek’s projects aim to counteract this. After many years of trying she was finally able to set up the Surin project, backed by the Governor of Surin. This involves persuading the owners of street begging elephants to give up this practice and bring their elephants and themselves to the Surin park. Volunteers are invited to help out, as indeed they are at ENP. As well as educating the volunteers as to the plight of the Asian elephant, they are getting hands on experience, incredible insights, wonderful food and, of course, the fees charged help support the elephants – and expensive ”hobby”.

The other project is to rescue a working elephant and return it to the original hill tribe owners. When logging was stopped these people had to find another method of earning money to keep their families and many opted to go to trekking camps. To start with they would stay with their elephant but as time passed and they missed their home and family they would return to their village leaving the elephant ‘rented’ to the trekking camp.
Journey to Freedom July 2010
Lek is now rescuing these animals, taking them back home and ensuring the owner continues to have sufficient money to support his family. This is a new project so not many elephants have been able to go home yet.

One of the ways to help save the Asian elephant is by “spreading the word”. Tell all and sundry what is happening and where it will all end without positive intervention.

 Check out travel agents brochures and write to those who include elephant trekking in their tours. Tell them of the overwork suffered by these animals, the never healing abscesses under the tail caused by the rope that holds the howdah (the ‘seat’ tourists sit on.) in place constantly rubbing the tender skin.

Tell them of the unbelievable number of babies who die because they have to trek with their mothers for up to 8 hours a day, thus giving them no time to rest of suckle properly.
Tell them how the mothers are often made to work right up until the time they actually give birth – and then are back at work within just a day or two.

Tell them about the number of injuries incurred, to say nothing of the indignity of having to perform circus tricks.

Despite its size an elephant’s anatomy is less able to take the kind of weight of humans on its back than a horse is.
The basket and the people are too much!  Especially if they are heavy Westerners
Photo taken at the Surin Roundup 2010

If you wish to raise funds for Elephant Nature Park please contact me (E-mail: as we now have a system in place whereby would-be fund raisers are asked to sign a contract. This is in order to help them, protect the Park and protect potential donors. Unfortunately it has come to light recently that there has been quite a lot of fraud in this area and the charity that donors thought they were helping has not received the money. Not un-naturally, this tends to put people off, hence our desire to try to protect everybody.

There are other charities that help the Asian elephant. The two I, personally, have been involved with are “Wildlife SOS, in India ( and Elephant Family, in England

Phyl Kirkland

May 29th 2011


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