10.05.2007 - 12.05.2007 25 °C
...Watch the Baby Elephants go by.
The Retiring Old Elephants project is designed so old elephants can retire from working and live their final years in a peaceful existence. Retired elephants don't have their own mahout to care for them and don't receive any income unless they are working. Through this project people like Katherine and I care for the elephants and contribute to their food costs so they don't have to work.
When we arrived at the Elephant Kraal we were assigned a hut to sleep in. It was nicely furnished with two beds, a wardrobe, dresser and aircon. The bathroom was outside. Eva explained the elephant program to us and Michelle assigned us an elephant. Katherine's elephant is called Dok Ma and is about 70 years old. My elephant is called Loong Luen and is about 60 years old.
The four main tasks in caring for our elephants were mucking out, scrubbing, feeding and bathing. Mucking out meant sweeping the elephant poo and used pineapple leaves off their concrete pad and into piles ready to be collected to be taken away to be made into compost or dung paper.
Scrubbing involves taking your elephant to a 'shower' - a concrete pad with a hose. You chain the elephant up and give her some pineapple to keep her happy then you hose her down and scrub her with scrubbing brushes. We only scrubbed one elephant a day. On the last day after scrubbing Loong Luen to a sparkly, clean condition she immediately found a mud hole and sprayed mud allover herself. But this is a good thing as it helps exfoliate the dead skin so I take it as a compliment that I did a good job with the scrubbing brush. You can even scrub their tales, trunks and around their faces.
Feeding involves getting cartloads of pineapple leaves and distributing it to the elephants during the day. They especially like pineapples and other fruit so we were careful to look out for pineapples from the pile of pineapple leaves or take other fruit like guava or watermelon as a special treat for our old elephants.
Bathing is not a chore and it was combined with a riding session. We had real mahouts on the elephants with us to make sure we were ok. Katherine always needed to be pushed on to Dok Ma but I managed to walk up Loong Luen's leg and using her ears pull myself onto her neck. We would walk slowly down to the river where the elephants would drink before going all the way in. One time Loong Luen decided to swim far out into the river. Elephants are very good swimmers - they use their trunk as a snorkel.
When we weren't looking after our elephants we would listen to Eva and Michelle talk about the work at the Elephant Kraal or we would observe the baby elephants or the elephants in the nursery. There are three baby elephants ranging in age from about 2 weeks to 5 weeks old. The older two are quite adventurous. They are very cute the way they try to imitate their mothers and hide under them or sleep in the hay.
The nursery holds baby elephants that are a bit older - up to four years of age - and their mothers. Some are characters - they walk forwards and backwards along the edge of a concrete water trough. They are very agile.
In the mornings we got up early and watched the mahouts get their elephants ready for work. They put blankets and seats on the elephant's back and they wear nice red and gold trousers and shirt. The elephants walk onto a truck - four to a truck and they are driven to town where they give rides to tourists. The young elephants put on a show for the tourists too. All natural behaviours are used and the elephants enjoy the social interaction. Elephants have been domesticated in Thailand for 4000 years so it is very natural for them. Also, the mahouts have very good control of their elephants. My elephant knew I was inexperienced and kept her ears pinned against my legs while I was riding her. This is to protect me and also to stop me kicking her, which I am meant to do to tell her to go forwards.
We had a fantastic three days at the Elephant Kraal. I have only written a fraction of what we did and learnt. Now we have moved on I really miss my elephant and I would love to go back to look after them and become more expert at riding. It was a very, very, very good time.