The drive from Kanchatanaburi to Elephants World took about 30 minutes, the scenery quickly changing from bustling city to serene country side. I noticed acres upon acres of cultivated elephant grass, the first sign that a plan was underway to ensure that the elephants held in captivity are guaranteed a healthy food supply.
It’s the dry season and the landscape shows it. The countryside is dry and sparsely treed in comparison to Northern Thailand. I made a mental note to ask if the seemingly barren hills that jutt up from the fertile valley floor are naturally treeless or the result of logging. I later learned that the hills are actually covered in bamboo. Since they are presently dormant the bamboo looks like dried brush, but learning that it is dormant bamboo made me see the distant rocky peaks in a much different light — they are mountains of elephant food.
Elephants World is a new project with several rescued elephants ranging from 3.5-year-old Jon to the two ancient wise females affectingly referred to as the old ladies. A most magnificent river runs through the property, the jewel of the place and probably the best reason to create an elephant sanctuary in this location. They do allow visitors and most are Thais, who are different from the demanding foreigners who think every elephant was born to be ridden. The Thais are rather quiet and reserved in such a public setting. They were happy to sit on a wooden tree house platform on the river’s edge and watch in silence as the elephants enjoyed a lively swim.
While observing, we discuss the center’s plans, dreams and current challenges. The discussion quickly focused on Jon, who is a wild calf who arrived in December after losing his mom. He is quite aggressive. There is concern among the staff about how to manage him humanely. His young mahout has done well with him, but the vet hopes to teach the mahout gentler ways.
It only took about twenty minutes before I heard myself agreeing to come back to train Jon and his mahout and to trim the elephant’s feet as well. My mind was racing a hundred miles an hour because there were so many travel arrangements to change; well, not so many — nothing is ever permanent — and I simply cannot turn down an opportunity to help hands-on, making life better for elephants.
The staff was excited when I said I would be happy to change my plans and return; it truly is my pleasure. We discussed the corral that needed to be constructed. The mahouts were so engaged, conferring with the vet and volunteer coordinator determining exactly where it would be, the size and construction and where the materials would come from. After a bit a discussion the vet turned to me and said that the mahouts will start collecting the supplies tonight and begin to build the corral tomorrow. I was pleasantly surprised because this is not an example of Thai time. It is an example of people seriously interested in improving their elephants’ lives and knowing that things need to be done now. What could I say but, of course, I will change my plans!