Friday, November 9, 2012

Want Elephant News?

Gentle Reader,

A few months ago I fell into the habit of posting news articles from other sources on my blog.  That turned out to be not a perfect decision; I’m taking those articles down and returning to my original concept of all words and photo’s being mine.
Pangporrnsawan at TECC 
I stuck Pangpornsawan's picture in here just because I feel we have a connection.  I'll be so grateful when she leaves hospital and goes to her new home.  Should be another two months or so.  

If you want an excellent one stop source for elephant related news I suggest you try Melissa Groo.  She does a sterling job of researching and disseminating elephant related news.  Below is the contact information:

Please see Save the Elephants.  

Melissa Groo is their Elephants News Service Researcher.  To subscribe to her news lists, just send an email to  with the subject: "Request African,  Request Asian, or Request Both".    I have learned so much about the plights of the Asian Elephant from this news list I must recommend it. 

By the way, this project is supported by the International Elephant Foundation

Abundant Blessings,


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Sri Lanka.  Being me, I decided that I would have to check out the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.  I suspect that the trip advisor ratings say more about the tourist than the place they rate.  People who are animal activists and people who are learned about the plight of the Asian Elephant will not like what they find at Pinnawala.  People who are happy to see lot’s of elephants up close and just want to enjoy their vacation may enjoy Pinnawala.  Look at the trip advisor rankings as of November 1, 2012:  44 people found it excellent, 51 very good, 25 average, 13 poor and 38 rated it as terrible.  I will use material from this article for my own review. The terrible count will then be 39.   

I have taken the liberty to cut and paste from a prominent Srilankan tourist information website:

“The purpose of Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage

 The primary purpose of the orphanage has been to provide a lifeline to the orphaned baby elephants and adult elephants lost in the wilderness. In most of the occasions the mother of the orphaned baby elephants had been killed; and then there have been accidents of baby elephants falling into pits and losing out to the herd; and there were instances the mother elephant had fallen into a pit and died leaving the baby elephant lost in the jungle. There are instances of adult elephants being killed by farmers to protect their paddy fields and crops resulting in baby elephants orphaned”.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was launched to provide the best possible opportunity to the sad victims of such situations. The orphanage is fully geared to provide an environment of happy and healthy life to the beasts”

Captive breeding at Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage

The elephants at the Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage aren’t subjected to any form of stress or threat at all and supported by a team of employees at the orphanage numbering over 100 including a group of mahouts.

The free movement of the herd within the 15-acre coconut grove of the orphanage affords the opportunities to both sexes of elephants to get together and mate. Maha Oya, the nearby river, where the elephants taken for bathing on daily basis played a dominant role in this regard. In 1984, the first baby elephant of 
 was born. Today some of these orphans enjoy the good fortune of seeing their third generation too born at the orphanage. ……….”[1]

To the uninformed tourist this all sounds great.  But is it?   I think not. I took the time to do a little research and spoke to a couple of people before and after I visited this place.  I find contradictions especially with the claim that the elephants are free of any form of stress or threat.  Two different people told me they had seen an “elephant crush” -- the small cage used for the breaking of baby elephants -- on the property.  I was given conflicting direction to it’s location and managed to get myself caught in an area “not safe”. The staff told me it wasn’t safe, but the tone of their voices conveyed something I wouldn’t describe as concern for my safety.  I couldn't hep but notice the spears they were holding at port arms.  What else were they hiding?  Bottom line is I didn't get any pictures of the crush, but have every reason to believe the people who told me of it's existence.  
One of the same sources told me a story about a pair very young baby elephants which were allegedly rescued from the jungle after their parent abandoned them. Humans abandon their young, elephants do not!   I would have loved to seen these babies, but as I said they were not available to me. 

For my own safety
So, what did I see?   First there is this old bull who apparently spends his days on a very short chain standing around so the tourists can touch him.  (A tip is expected).  This old boy is blind; no I didn’t even ask how that happened.  His body is scarred and appears to have various sores.  This elephant is neither happy nor healthy.   May the casual tourist wake up.  This is not something you want to see or show your children.  The sight of this elephant had a grave effect on me.  Why, I don't know.  What I do know is that in addition to my usual anger I felt a deep sadness perhaps a clinical depression.  Was I picking up his vibrations?  Perhaps.  I do know that I'm still effected when I see his images.    

Old Bull Elephant on Display. 
I am so sad for him
The breeding / rescue program seems to be working.  They do have a lot of elephants and many of them are young.  The website mentioned in the footnote talks about bottle feeding as a main tourist event.  To me that means they have a steady supply of infant elephants.   Gentle Reader, you decide if that’s a good thing or not.  I’ll keep my opinion toned down, other than to say I left there with a very heavy heart.

To the unschooled eye it looks pretty good
Many elephants seem to be seriously underweight.  Maybe they are sick, maybe not.  

After leaving the orphanage we passed several elephant camps.  I saw one elephant that was in such bad shape that I asked the driver to stop, walked back and took this photograph.  I cannot understand why anyone would treat another living creature like this and I cannot understand why people would pay good money to be close to such terrible abuse!  Pathetic! 

Just down the road from the orphanage
I’ll close with a positive note.  I’m told that there is work under way to establish another, hopefully better, elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka.  The country does have a significant wild elephant population and apparently there are people in their government who are looking for better ways to care for their pachyderm population.  

I have taken all my photographs, including the ones of elephants, from Sri Lanka and posted them on   There will be a couple of other articles about Sri Lanka which I will post in  Look for them soon.

Abundant Blessings,

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Day Tripper

Based on the length of their stay, one could argue that there are three categories of people who visit the Elephant Nature Park (ENP).  Third there are the people who volunteer to work at the park for a week or two.  Many of these fine people realize this is for them as a result of having visited the park for a shorter period of time.  Second there are the overnight guests. They enjoy more time at the park and can avail themselves to a morning walk to observe the elephants on the ground.  And first, there are the good people who go to ENP for a day trip.  I lovingly call them the “Day Trippers”.  Many of these people come back for an overnight visit and many return to volunteer for a week or more.  I myself was introduced to ENP by way of a day trip.  My life has never been the same from that day forward; much better, much fuller.

Two days ago I caught a ride to the ENP with the intention of hanging out and having lunch with a good friend.  However I was so inspired by the people who rode on the van that I just had to write this.  If you don’t know, a day trip to the ENP begins with being picked up at your hotel or guesthouse. I boarded at the ENP office and off we went to pick up the passengers. The driver made four stops and picked up people from five different countries:  Australia, Brazil, China, England and Israel.  This is the perfect group to accompany, photograph and write about.

The group meets their first elephant

Wow she has a big trunk! 
I managed to cull the photographs down to only 37 and then posted them at  A special message to the group, if you want to print any of these please send me an email and I will give you a print size file. Please do not print from these internet size files. If you want to pay me for the photograph, don’t.  Instead please make a contribution to Save Elephant Foundation. 

After picking up all the guests the van heads for the Elephant Nature Park, about an hour and a half journey. Our guide for the day was Bee.  I always enjoy her narratives and observations.  She’s truly a great guide.  By the way her real name is ผึ้ง (Pung) which is Thai for bee. On the way a video is played which introduces the guests to the plight of the Asian Elephant and to the Elephant Nature Park.

Bee at the Medical Clinic, she's holding
sample of elephant worms and dog worms.

Bee and me at the river.
Once at the park we receive a brief safety briefing and an explanation of the days schedule, then it was off to see a few of the elephants. 

Hope was just passing by.  He is the only elephant who has a mahout
who is allowed to ride him.   Gwan & Hope are marvelous together.

The group meets Darrick on the way to the medical center. 
About 11:30 we returned to the platform in time to help feed some of the elephants.  Many come to the platform and enjoy being fed a basket of fruit and veggies by the guests.  You might also want to know that not all of the elephants participate; some are still terrified of human contact (given their history, no one can blame them). 

Oh goodie, banannas in the basket. 

12:00 noon is human feeding time.  The lunch at the ENP is always a delicious vegetarian buffet. One day soon perhaps I’ll make a point of photographing some of the dishes. After lunch, around 1:00 pm the different groups are taken to the river and encouraged to help bathe some of the elephants.  Our group had a great time! 

Mong Dee and Sao Yai
Somewhere in mid-afternoon the guests are asked to watch another video about the plight of the Asian Elephant.  This one explains the torture the elephants go through as the start of their training to become tourist attractions. I’ve heard complaints that it’s too hard to see, but I believe ENP is correct in showing it. One part of ENP’s mission is to educate.  Everyone is free to step out of the screening room at any time, as did my Australian friend the first day we went to the park.

The remaining hour or so is spent as free time.  Depending on the day and the weather, one might get another opportunity to get close to the elephants.  This day there was a torrential rain. The elephants didn’t mind, but the people stayed under cover. 

Depending on the day everyone climbs back on the van between 4:30 and 5:00 and heads back to Chiang Mai.  Out of this group, at least one person has decided to return as a one week volunteer.  All in all it was a great day, one in which I made some new friends, caught up with an old one and was able to think through a few things that had been muddling around in my brain.

Abundant Blessings,

Jerry Nelson 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It’s time to clear the air.

Gentle Reader,

Most of you know, but a few may not.  Let's get clear. Asian Elephant Stories is my independent effort.  The purpose of this blog has never changed from that which is stated on the header:  “A small effort to help these magnificent creatures regain their dignity”.  What I write here is not filtered or edited by anyone other than me.  I try to choose my words carefully, but not so carefully that the message is lost in political correctness.   I capitalize the entire phrase Asian Elephant to show respect; my late aunt Iza who was the Dean of English at Iowa State University would approve. Responsibility for errors, omissions and faux pas lay entirely with me. 

A baby at ElefantAsia,  Sayaboury Province,Laos

This blog started this in August of 2010 with an article about street begging elephants. The street beggers have been gone from Chiang Mai for some time.  However,I recently heard that they have again been spotted in Chiang Mai province.  Sadly, there may be more on this subject in the near future.

Working the Street in Surin
I have to opportunity to do volunteer work, write for other publications and enjoy fairly easy access to captive elephants in Northern Thailand.  I say “fairly” because accessibility seems to be based on the elephant owner’s attitude toward candid journalism.  Although she is incredibly busy and often has to shuffle her attention between various media groups, Sangduen “Lek” Chialert always makes the media welcome.  Naturally, much has been written about Save Elephant Foundation and Elephant Nature Park (ENP).  I’ve written so much that some people think this blog is an extension of ENP. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!   Yes I’m a fan. No I do not offer my blog as a marketing tool. This blog and Jerry Nelson’s Journal are independent expressions.
Faa Mai follows, Lek leads
During a recent rather dark time in this wonderful countries history, I used this blog to re-transmit several articles written by others.  I make no apologies, but at the same time can take no credit for any actual contributions.  It’s time to get back to writing and in the future perhaps post more articles from other sources such as the tribute to Anthony Lawrence.

My next article might be “The Elephant Ambassador Program”.  I'm doing some research to ensure accuracy so don't expect anything for the next several days. I'm also beginning to gather more information on elephant street begging, the reported sightings keep coming in.  I truly wish there was nothing to report, but that just isn't reality.  Today's activity over on Jerry Nelson's Journal. is the posting of an article on the Symposium on Local Wisdom and Improving Quality of Life.  Check it out.

Abundant Blessings,

Monday, July 30, 2012

Good News, Administrative Information & Sad News

Gentle Reader,

There is good news, administrative information and sad news regarding Save Elephant Foundation and her premier attraction, Elephant Nature Park.

Good News!  Save Elephant Foundation has a new  “Official” Facebook page.  Our social media leader just wrote me saying:   We have set up a new Facebook fan page and need to get some "likes" in order to get a vanity URL and begin to spread the word about all of the good we do, as well as raise awareness about animal welfare, conservation and more. If you have a moment, and don't mind, could you please head to this link and give the page a "like”?  Please take moment and go to Save-Elephant-Foundation  Please share this with your friends, and please pass this blog notice on as well. 

Administrative Information:   Our new  Public Relations and Social Media leader, Diana Edelman is on board and hard at work.  There are more exciting changes coming soon.  Please stay tuned.

Lek comforts for the baby! 

When the dogs barked she would cover his ears and gently sign to him
This is love!
Sad News:   Save Elephant Foundation rescued a newborn elephant who had been rejected by his mother.  He was brought to the park and spent is short life being loved and nursed by staff and volunteers.  For a couple of days it looked like he was gaining strength and would survive.

When I went to see him volunteers were tending him around the clock.   He certainly was well tended during his short stay. His mother, Mae Kham, was brought to the park in an attempt to re-unite the two.  When I was there a few days ago she was close to the baby’s pen and seemed interested in him.  Staff and volunteers were taking milk from her and feeding it to the baby.  Lek came and spent days and nights with him.  Volunteers watched over him 24 hours a day, taking 3 hour shifts. 

Sadly, the little guy made his transition late Saturday afternoon. There was a ceremony and he was buried at ENP on Sunday morning.  Just this morning, one good friend reminded me that Save Elephant Foundation did not own the baby. Had he survived the owners would have taken him back to their village; at least now he will never have to suffer the phajaan.  Could her own tortured past be the reason that Mae Kham chose to kill her own children?  The best we can hope for is that Mae Kham’s owners don’t’ try to breed her in the future.

Rest in Peace, Little Elephant, you are loved! 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Progress with Pang Pornsawan

I had the opportunity to visit Pang Pornsawan today.  She is doing well, very well actually.  I could never describe the progress she has made other than to show you photographs of then and now. 

31 August 2011, taken just before we put her on the truck to Lampang
16 December 2011, TECC Elephant Hospital, Lampang
18 July 2012, TECC Elephant Hospital, Lampang
I'm so very grateful for the doctors and staff at TECC who take excellent care of Pang, and all the elephants in their care.  I'm also very grateful to all the people involved in her rescue, her hospitilalization and her future! 

The amazing thing is that Pang maintains a very sweet disposition.  She and I have a connection that I really can’t explain.  Just trust me when I tell you that she knows me and we both know that I care deeply about her.  I have a sense that she really enjoys my company.  Never, never tell me that she should have been put down, or that she is just an animal.  Pang Pornsawan is a magical creature who is loving and very intelligent.
Pang and me, 18 July 2012, Tecc Elephant Hospital, Lampang
What will the future bring?  Well when all the raw red coloring is gone from her wound she will come to the Elephant Nature Park and there spend the rest of her days.  An estimate I was given today was we are about 6 months out.  I’m so looking forward to that day; hopefully I’ll be allowed to ride with her on the final leg of her journey from that minefield so far away!

Abundant Blessings, 


Friday, April 6, 2012

The Animal Activist Alliance is Alive!

Gentle Reader,

"The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated". Since Mahatama Ghandi is the one who made that statement I'll accept it as truth.  An alliance of animal lovers has been formed here in Thailand.  The vast majority of their membership and their leadership is Thai; a few foreigners have been allowed to join and participate. I hope they will consider me a member.

This new organization is called  Animal Activist Alliance (AAA) Thailand.  They are bent on improving Thailand's status in the world by improving the way animals are treated in this great nation. I stand with them.

Mahatama Ghandi also said "Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth".  Well gentle reader AAA held it's first official activity today (April 5, 2012) and from what I saw they had between 200 and 300 in attendance.  In my opinion they speak the truth.  Their first activity was a quiet protest held outside Gate #3 of The parliament, ironically the gate is across the street from a zoo.  The demonstration was well organized, and well covered by the press.  Symbolism, and signs were the order of the day.  The crowd was well behaved; there were no blaring loudspeakers.

Very Important Addition:  On 11 April,  AAA released an 11 minute video which does an excellent job of explaining the aims of the alliance, the activities of the day and the wonderful reception by the Thai Parliament.  It's in Thai, except for a few short interviews in English.  Watch it anyway, it's really well done.  The version with English sub-titles is finished!  Please see:

AAA Demonstration Video -  English Version

AAA Video - Thai Language

Their press release stated that "The AAA is a newly formed alliance in Thailand with the objective of pushing for animal protection laws in Thailand, the introduction of animal rights and the stop to animal torture.  The Alliance currently has more than 30 member groups and organizations....."
The press release also listed the main objectives for the demonstration as:
Photo by Fran Victor
"1.  To show the concern of the Thai People for the lives of animals and their wellbeing in Thailand, whit handing over a petition with 10,000 signatures for a law proposal to parliament.
At the Parliament
Photo by Annelie Langerak

"2.  To inform and educate the Thai public on animal welfare issues and to ask for more public support.
The People Do Care
Photo by Annelie Langerak

"3.  To present evidence of animal torture that has been kept secret until this day.

"4. To show the international media and public that Thai citizen do care about animal wellbeing and animal rights.

Below is a link that, in my mind proves that the Thai media has taken this seriously and now the whole world will know about the butchery of innocent dogs!  It will stop, I'm sure! 
Bangkok Channel 3 News Clip

The clip below is from Channel 3 News interview of AAA members during the evening news on April 5.

Channel 3 Evening News Clip

Lek with a few of the local police
Photo by Patpampami Varoungsurat
"5.  To make government and the citizen of Thailand understand the problems animals in Thailand face and to present a solution in the form of animal welfare laws presented by several popular Thai celebrities".

There have been unrelated tragedies in Thailand of late that tell me the time has come for the Animal Activist Alliance (AAA) Thailand. Animal confiscations and the politics involved have taken a huge share of Thai media time lately. The story of the dog meat trade is causing revulsion in both the local community and the international media.  The Thai are a gentle people who will avoid conflict and always want to take the middle way. The AAA will, I hope, widen the middle way and make it possible for the law makers to consider passing laws that will protect animals in Thailand.  The April 5th demonstration was an excellent start!

Some of the feelings were best expressed by the signs people carried.

Both sides of the street were lined with AAA volunteers with signs, masks and costumes (at least until a labor group showed up with their huge loudspeakers which they aimed at the parliament building; at that point AAA retreated to the zoo side of the street).
The truck speakers pointed at the Parliament Building
Symbolism included cages, chains and at least one bull hook.
A fact of life for the captive elephant! 

Chains are for slaves! 
Please allow a brief look into my personal past and my personal views. Some years ago I had the honor of serving as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in the dependency court system back in the States.  The CASA volunteer is appointed by the court to watch over the child as he or she is jostled by opposing sides in a legal battle that determines the child’s future.  At one point in my first case, the child’s father yelled at me – “Whose side are you on anyway”?   My calm answer – I’m on the side of the child.  Recently I have been asked by opposing sides of an issue with elephants the same question:  “Whose side am I on”?   Let me be very clear and very direct here.  I am on the side of the animals, especially the elephants. Period!

Change begins with you and with me.  Often, our choice of words make a big difference.  For me I will never again own a dog, cat or other living animal.   Rather, I will consider myself as their guardian.  Just that shift in vocabulary can have an impressive effect in how one behaves toward his or her animal.  For more on this see: The Guardian Campaign    One of the signs I saw yesterday brings this point home:: "Family not Grocery".
Works for me! 
April 5 Demonstration Photos has a collection of my photographs from the first important activity by the Animal Activist Alliance (AAA) Thailand. Usually my articles include only my photographs; however the members of AAA have been posting a lot of great shots.  I thank my fellow members for making this a better article!  Hopefully I have the photo credits right!  I’m sure there will be follow up stories, but I have no idea when.

Abundant Blessings,

Friday, March 23, 2012

Observation and Questions - a Day at TECC

A day at TECC is usually very pleasant. I did get a chance to visit with Pangpornsawan for a few moments.  She is doing very well and the TECC staff still fret when I want to get close enough to touch her. Hey, they are just doing their job.
Pangpornsawan 22 March 2012
Other than the quick visit with Pang, yesterday was taxing to say the least. There are more questions and fewer answers.  I will preference this by sharing with you that I have made a commitment to do more research before I write anything that could be called definitive, anything with any sort of a conclusion.  I do not know enough about TECC and to that end I have been granted an interview with Richard Lair who has been involved with Thai elephants for some 27 years.  He is affiliated with the Thai Elephant Conservation Center.   I have also made a commitment to personally visit Saiyok Elephant Park in Kanchanaburi.  It was from them that 19 elephants were confiscated. They also own the two baby elephants that were confiscated from Phuket.

In the morning I met Khun Chaiyapong Sandee and his family. The original intent of the trip to to TECC was to visit their elephants and see how are they doing since they were moved here.  However, they had learned through unofficial channels that one of their elephants had died. They were at TECC to learn the circumstances surrounding the death of one of their elephants, to visit the surviving elephants and work on having their elephants returned.

When he got to TECC office, he was officially informed about the death of his elephant. Sri Thong was a very healthy about 17 year old female who died at approximately 5:00 a.m. on March 20th.  According to one of the attorneys who spoke with a doctor at TECC, She passed at 5:00 a.m., an autopsy was performed at 5:00 p.m. Tissue samples were sent to a university in Chiang Mai; results are expected in a week.  I also learned she was buried that same day.  According to an article posted on at about 3:00 a.m. today TECC had reported the death to the local police.  No details of the death were included in the article.  However, it did say that if it’s determined that the elephant was illegal, the government will have no requirement to compensate for her loss.  A family member told me that they have never received any official notification of Sri Thong’s death; that they learned of it through word of mouth.  The family had a meeting with TECC officials, were provided with some information but seemed to leave with a lot of unanswered questions.  One thing they are requesting if a copy of the video of the autopsy. I am told that request is still pending. Needless to say there are more unanswered questions surrounding this poor elephant and her demise.

I went with Khun Chaiyaphong Sandee and his family to visit the other elephants.  There is a mother and a calf about 1 year old who seem to be in pretty good shape. At least they are together.  The two babies who were confiscated from Phuket are about 2 years old. They are in a pen together, both on short chains.  10 elephants are under a long shelter, 3 under a separate shelter and the remaining 3 were in a nearby forest.  My Thai is not that good, but as I understand it there is a lot of concern about these elephants not having enough food, enough water, exercise or shelter.  What I observed was that the 13 in shelters did not have food or water near them.  Clearly the elephants and the people were stressed.  The weather was hot and emotions ran high. Khun Chaiyaphong is very worried about the rest of his elephants, worried that they could be become ill or die if they have to remain at TECC. He is working to have the rest of his elephants returned.
Not Enough

Three under a makeshift shelter, no water, no food!

Babies in Chains
I spoke at some length with two of the family members, whose English is excellent.  They claim that each of the confiscated elephants had valid papers, but in each case there were discrepancies in the descriptions.  According to them, 2 DNP staff visited their camp on January 24th to collect information, then on the 25th, The National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department chief, Khun Damrong Pidej, led a raid of some 200 armed men, demanding to immediately see all the certificates.  Quickly copies were made and surrendered to DNP. The camp had, at that time, 51 elephants but handed over papers on 58 elephants.  DNP wanted to know why there were 7 extra papers. Saiyok Elephant park staff insisted it was an oversight caused by the pressure to immediately produce.  They had included copies of documents about elephants that were no longer there.

DNP left with instructions to have the description sections of the certificates updated at the local office.  However, when they went to the government office they were told that no adjustments to the certificates could be made while they were under investigation.  On 29 February, 19 elephants were confiscated from Saiyok and transported to TECC.

I asked if DNP uses the microchip information.  No!  It turns out that the microchip information is maintained by Department of Livestock Development and apparently there is no coordination between the two departments.  Saiyok elephant staff said, all of their adult elephants has been micro chipped; most of them 10 to 15 years ago. All information about elephants including sex, age, place elephants were micro chipped, previous owner’s name and address have been recorded as a database at Bureau of Disease Control and Veterinary Service, Surin province.  If I understand this correctly wild elephants come under the jurisdiction of Department of National Parks and domestic elephants under the jurisdiction of Department of Livestock.

As I said at the beginning Gentle Reader, there are far more questions than answers.