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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 12.569, 99.9524
One thing I want to do while in Thailand is to ride on an elephant. (I rode on a camel in Cairo, Egypt, being able to look over to the Sphinx and great pyramids while doing it! What a story that was. We'll save that for another time, another adventure, but from memory, since it's long over.) Sunday, November 27 dawned hot and sunny. It was a bit hotter than previous days, but it is so nice not to have to think about piling on 5 or 6 layers of clothing, and then a bulky coat on top of that. Plus hat, scarf, double mittens, thick socks, boots. (I am from Maine.) But I digress. It was hot that day, and very sunny, so my walk into town felt warmer than usual. I went in early, to use the internet cafe at a little restaurant there, since our hotel did not have the promised wireless connection; our group was to meet at the restaurant at 10AM, so I had an hour or so to do my work.
Once everybody arrived, we set off on scooters and in an air-conditioned truck; part of our good deeds for the day was to buy many pounds of pineapples to donate to the elephant rescue facility we were going to visit. Brian, who donates a lot of his time, and money, to the elephants (and to the people in Bangkok during the floods), drove the truck; that's how the pineapples were to be carried. One other person and I were lucky: we got to ride in the AC truck! That was very pleasant, as the day was so hot and the ride fairly long. First we went to the pineapple plantation; we ate fresh pineapples picked right off the plants. So delicious! The juice is ambrosia. Perfect. Then we loaded up the back of Brian's pickup with pineapples, as many pounds as the discounted price we got them for because we were donating them all to the elephants. Each of us contributed at least 100 Baht, about $3; some gave more. That amount equaled a lot of pineapples! The back of the truck was almost full.
If I figure out how to post photos here I know I took some really good ones of both the pineapple plantation and the elephant preserve. But for now I will paint verbal pictures.
Once the back of the pickup was filled with pineapples, we headed out again, this time to the elephant preserve. It is another beautiful place. There are carved elephants as you enter the facility, so there is no mistaking where you are even if you can't read the signs written in Thai at the entrance. The first elephant I saw was called "Grandma." She is an ancient one, 87 years old. Her eyes were leaking; they think she might be blind. They also think she was one of the elephants that worked on the "death railroad." Grandma was in her own large cage, and I gave her most of the pineapples I could get. She couldn't see them, I don't think, but she could smell them; the inside of her trunk, when she put it out to take a pineapple from my hands, felt so soft! Incredible, as their hides are so very rough. Grandma was insatiable. She must love to eat pineapples.
There were nine elephants at the preserve, although we only saw eight of them. One had to be put much further back, away from the other elephants, and far from visitors. His is a very sad story: he had been mutilated late one night; some poachers broke into the preserve and cut off his tusks. This is very painful for elephants, and not only was he in horrible pain, but also distrustful of people after that act. So we were not able to visit him or give him pineapples. I asked one of the people there if they would take any of our pineapples to him; he said they would, but it looked like the whole pile of pineapples was being given to the animals closer by.
Some of the other eight elephants were kept near each other; a few had boxes where people could ride high on top. It was too hot a day for me to want to do this, plus I didn't think there was time enough to take a trek through the woods, so I put off my wish to ride one of these magnificent animals for another day. We continued to feed the elephants the pineapples, then our guide asked us if we would like to see the baby, a 3 1/2 year old male named Songkran, after the word for the Thai new year, as he was born one day after. Songkran is not yet able to eat a whole pineapple; he stomps on the pineapples given to him and slurps up the juice. Songkran is also being trained to do tricks. He follows his trainer out of his large, wooden fenced cage, and stops when told to; he will also sit when asked, and allows people to sit on his front legs for photographs. Songkran also knows how to twine his trunk around a person; the willing visitor is held in the embrace of this baby elephant while more photos are taken. His most important trick, however, is to carry a little basket among the visitors, basically appealingly asking for donations.
The whole elephant preserve is run on donations. One trainer is assigned to one elephant, and that trainer stays with his/her elephant as long as the elephant lives, day and night, even sleeping with the elephant when needed. Elephants can live as long--or longer--than humans, so this is a huge commitment on the part of the trainer; to make it easier for the trainers, their families live right on the compound with them, so they can always be nearby. It is a labor of love, one the Thais find very acceptable as a good job.
Before we left, I walked back over to Grandma with two pineapples I had saved just for her. The last I saw of her she was chewing those pineapples and patiently waiting for her next treat.
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