Permanent freedom has been secured for elephant Mae Kam, at our elephant volunteer project in Thailand

Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Monday, 22nd June 2015

Elephant eating in ThailandDomesticated elephants in Thailand work their entire lives mainly for the purpose of either transporting or entertaining tourists. It is estimated that around 3,000 elephants are domesticated in Thailand, which means that there are roughly as many domesticated as there are wild, even though it has proven difficult to count. Our Elephant Volunteer Project in Thailand set up their sanctuary three years ago, saving elephants previously enslaved in a working life.

One of the first elephants they saved was then 53-year-old Mae Kam, who worked in the logging and tourism industry for over 50 years. She has a long and sad history behind her of depression and anger, which she eventually directed towards her owners and tourists, becoming known in the area as a ‘dangerous’ elephant. She was eventually moved from the camps for her own and others’ safety, and was chained in the forest for nearly two years left on her own having no interaction with other elephants. Then Burm and Emily, the sanctuary's owners offered Mae Kam’s owner an alternative; to retire Mae Kam to their sanctuary and in exchange they would compensate the owner, so he and his family could manage financially without having Mae Kam working or chained up. An agreement was settled for less than a year, yet every year it was renewed - until now.

Elephant walking in the forestA campaign was started in May to achieve complete freedom for Mae Kam. The only way for it to succeed was to raise the amount of money needed to pay the owner. The campaign succeeded in less than two weeks to gather enough money to free Mae Kam with vast support from all over the world. Such great news! The paperwork has been settled and Mae Kam is now free and able to roam the forests of this amazing elephant sanctuary in the middle of Thailand.  

Why is it so important to stop the elephant industry? First of all, elephants are not naturally willing to let people ride their backs. The owners will thus start early and separate the calves from their mothers in a young age beginning the process known as ‘Phajaan’, or “the crush”. It is a process in which the calf firstly will be confined in a small space, where they are unable to move, while being starved and deprived for sleep. Then they are beaten into submission with different objects, usually sharp bull-hooks or clubs. The purpose is to break the elephant’s spirit and make it submissive to the commands of the person in charge. In other words, these highly intelligent, social and sensitive animals are going through long periods of torture in a very young age to entertain and carry tourists! It goes without saying that this practice needs to end!

Elephant in the riverIt is not possible for the people in these sanctuaries to just buy every elephant that might cross their paths. In the end, it is for the owner to decide whether he wants to sell or not. Creating awareness in the local community, as well for tourists around the world, is the only answer to how we together can prevent further domestication of elephants. If local people are provided alternative incomes and tourists will stop supporting the industry, it will eventually be unprofitable to continue. There are many vast and beautiful elephant parks and sanctuaries in Thailand and Cambodia, which allow visitors and volunteers to come experience elephants in a natural and respectful environment. It is these places that you should support, and you will truly get to witness first-hand the funny and happy nature of elephants. An experience you will never have from sitting on their backs or standing next to them chained up in a camp.

Thus, always do your research as a responsible volunteer, and find a sanctuary to visit and experience these magnificent animals up close, while making a difference. As Emily says: “Together we can make the change”

By WorkingAbroad blog writer Charlotte Laursen

Author: WorkingAbroad Projects

Blog articles from our projects, volunteers in the field and the wider world are posted here.

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