After nearly two years of preparation and numerous setbacks our chain-free corral project In Thailand is scheduled to begin July 12th.
In October 2013, I visited two sites–Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) and Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES)–to map areas for chain-free corrals. The corral locations were identified and construction plans laid out. Everyone was excited about giving their well-cared-for elephants more autonomy and physical freedom within a safe and secure jungle environment.
This is when things became challenging.
I soon learned that Thailand did not have a supplier for the materials we use for solar powered chain-free corrals. The closest supplier was IBEX Galleger in India. All materials would have to be shipped from India via the wholesaler in New Zealand.
Stopped at the border
The plan was to build the corrals last October.
I monitored the progress of the materials shipment from my US office. The Indian fence crew would fly to Thailand to oversee the arrival of materials, while the staff at BLES stood by, ready to receive the delivery. Partners in three countries experienced a great deal of anticipatory anxiety.
As soon as the materials arrived from New Zealand, they were transported from Bengaluru, India, to the coast and loaded onto a cargo ship, which crossed the Bay of Bengal and docked in Bangkok, Thailand. They cleared customs without a hitch.
This is when we hit a major snag.
The Indian crew was supposed to receive the delivery in order to avoid a hefty unloading and storage fee.
But the crew was stopped at Thai immigration to verify their residence while in Thailand.
BLES’s phone and internet were not working so there was no way for Thai immigration to verify the crew’s destination. Emails flew back and forth among continents, to no avail. We couldn’t reach BLES.
After a couple of hours, Thai immigration refused the crew entry and sent them back to India.
Unfortunately, the project had already exceeded the estimated cost even before the materials were loaded onto the cargo ship. This latest development didn’t help. At this point, the costs threatened to skyrocket.
Everything falls into place
Thanks to this experience, the Indian crew was afraid to return to Thailand.
I set out to find qualified installers in Thailand. No luck. No one in Thailand wanted to take on the job, as they were unfamiliar with the corral system.
After weeks of searching, I decided to try to convince the Indian crew to try again. They were leery, so it took months to finally convince them. By the time they finally agreed, they were working on a new project in India, and unavailable to return to Thailand until later this year.
But here we are, several months later, heading to Thailand once again.
We don’t have to worry about the materials–they are safely stored at BLES.
Pre-construction is already underway at FAE and they are clearing the fence line as we speak. It will be cleared and ready for my arrival on July 12.
The plan is to get all the corner posts set at both FAE and BLES before the fence crew arrives on the 18th.
All we have to worry about is getting the crew into Thailand. This time I plan to be standing outside immigration at the airport with a working cell number, ready to handle any problems that might arise.
This project has been a serious challenge but I have no doubt that it will be well worth every bit of frustration and anxiety when we see the elephants released into their new chain-free corrals.
Thank you for helping us create the first solar powered chain-free corrals at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary and Friends of the Elephant Hospital in Thailand.