ELEPHANT-MAHOUT CONNECTIONS AT THE WORLD’S FIRST ELEPHANT HOSPITAL
Day 2 from Michael Wysocki:
After two full days at FAE I am starting to understand its being, not only the Elephants as creatures but this entire sanctuary of a home for every life here. Soraida has created a little 200 acre world and as I walk around I ask myself, how did she do it? I have read about her journey thus far, all the financial struggle, discouraging events, and even death threats; but to be inside the home, the core, of the fight to save the Asian Elephant is the most “down to earth” feeling I have ever felt.
So, I became curious to really understand the intentions of the people who live and work these Elephants. Mahouts and young and upcoming mahouts are the Elephant’s keeper and family. Elephants as a species are smart, strong, and free-willed and I am learning what it takes to earn an Elephant’s trust, especially one that has been exploited in the past. My goal was to observe today without interfering, so I sat down on rain soaked soil amongst the banana trees with my camera, staring and listening to the secret language between an Elephant and its mahout. There is a language barrier between me and the mahouts, which is probably best for them because I am full of questions, but I have learned a way to gain their trust and accept to my presence: I smile. Smiling with Thai people has become my favorite game because, so far, everyone has smiled back, if not first.
Have any of you ever observed an Elephant for a good while? If so, you probably noticed they are perfectly adapted eating machines, it is actually very entertaining and funny. Their trunk has over 40,000 muscle units, you can almost imagine every single one at work while they strip the bamboo of its lushes green leaves not one but like four stalks at the same time. I only dive for a couple strings of bamboo at a time with my chopsticks, but maybe I’ll get there before I leave since I am eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner J. This made me think about why they are this way, and what is the niche of a wild Asian Elephant? I was watching my answer. Not only are they an ultimate fertilizer for the forest with an almost continuous supply of dung, full of nutrients and seeds, but they are also migration builders. The jungles of Southeast Asia are thick, very thick, from the constant showering of sunlight and water all year around. When a herd of elephants move through the forest, feeding, they create pathways for other animals and allow them to migrate, as well as search for food and a mate. Without these migration paths, it would be very difficult for the animals to explore other areas of the forest in search of a mate from a different family. Genetic Diversity is key to species survival! So, feeding a captive elephant is a full-time day and night responsibility that these mahouts take on physically and Soraida takes on financially.
The mahouts not only take on the work here at FAE to care for, clean and feed elephants, but also the assistance and teamwork needed for constant medical attention the elephants at the World’s First Elephant Hospital, FAE, depend on. This is what really separates FAE from other elephant sanctuaries and it is real because of two extraordinary human beings, Dr. Kay and Dr. Preecha. I look forward to observing their work tomorrow and sharing it with you, especially the work in progress with FAE’s newest landmine victim, Po Hae Pa.