Published: August 5th 2007July 30th 2007
IMPORTANT! Travelblog has been down and all my blogs were lost :( I'm in the process of restoring them but have no idea how successful I will be. The ONLY one I have certainly salvaged is this one from the last two weeks in Thailand...enjoy!
It's been two weeks with almost no internet access (thus no update) but probably the most amazing two weeks of our Global Vets adventures so far. Our time was spent at the elephant hospital of the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, part of the National Elephant Institute [www.thailandelephant.org]. This is an AMAZING place, so idyllic and the work they do is awesome. What else can I say???
A typical day
Our start time at the hospital was 7 AM to meet with our mahouts and look after our elephants. That's right, we were each assigned an elephant to look after, with a mahout (Thai elephant handler) to guide our efforts. My mahout: nickname Tan, real name Fan. A hard one to remember indeed. My elephant: Nongnut (the 'nut' part is more like 'noot'). Age: 63, female, and in the hospital because she is emaciated. She is also a little ill behaved...and I would
be too at that age. I had to quickly learn some Thai words so I could 'attempt' to keep her from running off. Actually, our first day was basically like her running off and me standing around clueless while my mahout didn't seem too concerned. More on this later...
So first thing to do is pick up our elephants from where they are kept overnight...mine was a short trek in to the jungle up a hill. Then it's time to clean up the area...one person scoops the dung, the other sweeps (that would be me). You can definitely work up a sweat doing this and by the second day, I got a thumbs up on my sweeping from Tan. Of course, then I got a half thumbs up when I tried to pronounce the word for "move forward" which is a cross between pit and hit. Then it's bath time, which involves some good times with the hose. Laetitia's elephant would lie down for her but of course, Nongnut would barely dip her head down for me to clean it off. It was definitely satisfying to see her get cleaned though...except when she then rubbed herself against a dirty
elephant and had to be hosed down again!
Next up: feeding! Mmmm, bana grass, corn or bananas anyone??? These animals are amazing, I watched Nongnut take one banana at a time from a huge bunch using her foot and trunk without squishing any of them and looking as graceful as ever! AND, they have such amazing memories! My job was to grab her meds (really supplements and vitamins) from the pharmacy and stick them in sticky tamarind.
As soon as she sees me coming, her mouth is wide open in anticipation!
Later on in the morning, if we aren't busy with treatments then we help take our elephants for walks. This really only happened a couple times but this is when I learned Nongnut had a mind of her own. I suddenly noticed my elephant walking off and eventually disappearing up a hill and into the jungle and Tan seeming unconcerned. Apparently she knew this route. That left me and my mahout to hang out together with Laetitia and her mahout, nickname Note. This is where we learned the fine art of slingshotting and being convinced to eat mysterious fruits by Tan and Note. Good times! About
45 minutes later, it was time to retrieve Nongnut. So off we headed up a hill and into the jungle...and up and up and down, then up and further and further away. I wish I had my camera with me, even my mahout was tripping on vines! Needless to say, I was sweating buckets and highly fatigued by the time we got back to the hospital with Mike, Laetitia and Sirima (a pre-vet student from North Carolina) wondering where I had been. Trekking in the jungle obviously!
There are 5 vets that work at the TECC, Dr. Tong, Dr. Tom, Dr. Tung, Dr. Yaew (pronounced like 'yo'), and Dr. Pap. We spent most of our time with Dr. Yaew and Dr. Pap, both very young and after initially breaking the ice we discovered they were very, very amusing. Mike's blog Working With Giants
has an excellent example of one of their favourite jokes. Laetitia and I were caught a little off guard with some quizzing on the first day (fluid therapy, yikes!) but that just motivated us more to hit the books and get our acts together. And it paid off with many chances to get hands
My new favourite!
This is skinny dog...also known as Noi. Between her huge ears and adorable face, she became my favourite dog at the centre. I like to think she liked to hang out with me too...as she's sleeping in the office in this pic!
on experience taking blood, giving injections, cleaning wounds EVERYWHERE (feet, tusks, legs, vulvas...yeah, I know you wanted details), massaging legs (which was like an ungraceful dance of us avoiding getting stepped on and avoiding getting the massage drugs on us), and physical exams. PLUS, feeding the baby elephants. We also spent two days on the road, heading out with the mobile clinic to do a housecall which is really more like a 'forest' call, and treating the animals at the Pang La rehab centre. This is where many retired, deformed, and 'furious' elephants go since they are no longer fit for working. We were told this place had been around for a very long time and was somewhat sacred. The feeling of this place was so indescribably serene and you had a sense that this was a truly special place. I know, sounds dorky but it's completely true. We treated 11 elephants in an hour and a half, including this behemoth:
(thanks Mike for the cheeky caption)
We also got to be part of a semen collection seminar with veterinary students from Chiang Mai University. I think this will require video to truly capture the process...I'll try to
A tricky case
This elephant, Ompang, had been at the hospital before we came due to lameness. A very mysterious case, all the vets were stumped because there was no swelling initially and she wasn't responding to anti-inflammatory drugs. X-rays were also inconclusive. Finally, on our second last day, an equine expert came in and took a look. With a change in treatment, she was able to put some weight on her foot the next day!
post that soon! And we also got to be a part of the artificial insemination (AI) of one of the females, who also happened to be the stepmom (Pompum) to the first successful AI of elephants in Asia. The baby, named AI until the King chooses a name, was absolutely unimpressed with the process as numerous mahouts were required to keep AI away from his Mom during the process. Baby elephants are not to be messed with! At one point, AI got out of the enclosure...closely followed by 4 mahouts. You can't help but laugh watching 4 grown men chasing a baby elephant around. Of course, all during this Pompun is under sedation but still awake and none too impressed. And this is how I got squished by an elephant (except here I perfected the art of pulse taking without getting hurt):
This was my assigned task for every 5 minutes but initially I had to climb up and cling to a pole to reach her ear. And then she moved. And then as my sweaty arms clutched onto the pole, my hand got stuck between the pole and the wire holding up her IV bag as she moved
One hungry baby
This little guy was part of our responsibility to feed. And let me tell you, when we were late, he was none too happy! I'll post a video later!
her head searching for AI. OUCH! Just some minor soft tissue damage but a good reminder of how strong these animals are. Did I mention that Mike got decked across the chest by a trunk when he was taking photos???
So with that, I shall end this entry until I get some videos posted. It was really sad to say goodbye to this place, and I definitely had an empty feeling this morning realizing I wasn't going to be looking after Nongnut today. But as always, all good things must come to an end and the next adventure must begin! Enjoy the photos!
There are more photos below