National Elephant Day
I visit Thailand with a small group of tourists every year to celebrate this special day surrounded by people who value and appreciate elephants, who devote their daily lives to the care of these unique creatures in a modern setting.
Few who have had a close experience with an elephant could doubt they have great intelligence and complex emotions.
I like to pay my respects to the expertise and elephant knowledge built up over many centuries and the best way I can do that is pay for the experience, thereby ensuring elephants and their human carers continue to thrive.
This year, the newest mahout was proudly introduced to each elephant by his grandfather who is devoting his life to help create a sustainable future for Thai elephants.
Elephants have lived with people for over 4000 years, helping to build Thailand into the country it is today. Even more so than the horse in Western cultures, elephants have shaped Thailand. Unlike the horse, an elephant’s lifespan may be 70 years or so! Traditionally, they have been ideal transport through the thick jungle terrain, their great strength has been used in logging and they have served as warriors, fighting ferociously in battle. Elephant training has been passed down through the generations, thick with ceremony and beliefs in the mystic and magic of elephants and their symbolic association with royalty and religion.
For a ‘mahout’ (elephant handler/carer), their elephant is a family member and they share a trusting, close friendship.
Life in Thailand has changed dramatically in the past 100 years, legally elephants have not been captured for domestication since 1906. Their purpose as labourers and transporters working beside their mahout to provide for the family has become obsolete. In the late 1980’s the Government banned logging completely to save Thailand’s remaining forests. Whilst this saved forests, it left the majority of domesticated elephants and their mahouts out of work, struggling for survival.
Tourism is their best hope at present! While we all yearn for a utopian world where we all get to do exactly as we want, where people and animals are able to co-exist and thrive without external support, it’s not (yet?) the case.
Wild habitats are not secure, animals are still poached and life there is tenuous. Release for most domesticated elephants is not practical or possible. They still need to be protected and able to pay their way.
Elephants in human care need all the help we can give them while we work toward a sustainable future for their species. As part of that commitment, paying volunteers on my small group tours work hard to make March 13 memorable for both elephants and people. Check out the ‘elephantastic’ feast we helped provide this year.
It was wonderful to share our love of elephants with the locals and witness the enjoyment of the elephants choosing from the big selection of fruits, vegetables, grass and hay on offer!