Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Wednesday, 17th December 2014
Did you know that elephants in captivity live only half as long as those in the wild?
Whether they are kept in a zoo or used for elephant rides in the tourism industry, captive elephants almost never live as long as nature intended. Riding an elephant may seem glamorous or exotic, but many people are unaware of the animal’s suffering. Phaajan, or “elephant crushing,” is the cruel practice of using torture to make wild elephants submit to human handlers. Nearly every elephant used for rides has been broken by this practice, which has existed for hundreds of years.
Luckily, there are special “sanctuaries” like our Elephant Volunteer Project in Thailand that rescue these elephants. The project rents elephants from owners that would otherwise be using them in the tourism industry, giving owners an alternative income while giving the elephants some much-needed rest. The project also works to educate elephant handlers, or “mahouts” as they are locally called, about better care practices. It is a delicate subject: although the elephants unarguably suffer, the mahouts are often struggling themselves. The cycle perpetuates because the mahouts are often the providers from their family, relying on their elephants and tourist clients to make ends meet. Co-founder Emily remarks, “It is our job to listen, observe, understand, and care about the mahouts in order to work with them to educate, inform, and guide them to take on positive methods to work together to improve the welfare of the elephants and animals.”
Since it was founded in 2011, the project has grown rapidly in terms of staff, volunteers, and its elephant population. In fact, it just saw two new additions to its “family” – elephants Thong Dee and Boon Yuen, who have quickly adopted the title, “The Golden Girls!” After their owner had an emergency and could no longer care for them, he contacted Burm and Emily, who within a few short days arranged to have these elephants moved to the project Mae Chaem. However, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds – transporting two 3000+ kg animals over 180 km is no small task! Thanks to donations from supporters and the help of volunteers, The Golden Girls made it safely to the sanctuary and are enjoying their new-found freedom.
In addition to taking on new animals, the project has just finished building a medical shelter for the elephants. It is essential to have a safe and sterile area where the elephants can stay when they need veterinary care and attention. This is good news for mother elephant Kham Mee and her son Boon, who is only a young calf and will need regular check-ups.
If you volunteer in Thailand, you will have plenty of time to get to know these elephants. When else in life can you give an elephant a bath!? There are plenty of smaller creatures to be loved, as well: Burm and Emily rescue dogs, cats, and even tortoises. Volunteers can also teach English to local residents, or help lead one of the project’s many community development programs.
- By Lauren Amrhein, WorkingAbroad Team
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