Katherine’s Journal

4 July 2014

Toothaches and heartaches… It has been such a roller coaster of emotions these past two weeks at BLES. We have gone through every sentiment — fear, confusion, anxiety, guilt, gratitude, pride, relief, joy, sadness, loneliness, emptiness, fulfillment, excitement, contentment… and all because of two little bull elephants. On the 22nd June 2014, Mee Chok under went surgery to remove the shards of infected and broken tusk, that have been causing him huge stress since his tusk broke off at the end of January. Mee Chok has had on going issues with his tusks, ever since he was rescued back in 2010, probably due to being prematurely separated from his mother, resulting in a calcium deficiency. When his tusk snapped off in January, Mee Chok was rushed up to the elephant hospital in Lampang for emergency treatment. He was discharged afar a month and we were told that there was nothing we could do for Mee Chok, a part from offer him pain relief medication and administer daily treatments. This was a devastating prognosis. Mee Chok is just a baby. He will turn 5 on the 7th July and his little life has been one of mistreatment, torture and heartbreak.

I have a great respect for the veterinarians at Lampang and value their opinions. However, I was not convinced that ‘nothing could be done’ and so set about researching tusk extractions and reaching out to international specialists, seeking their professional opinions. Varying verdicts and ideas were forth coming, which was disconcerting at first, particularly when the vets here, were still saying extraction was not an option. I am not a vet or doctor of any sort. But, I am a mother and consider all of the animals in my care, a part of my family. There was no way I was going to allow Mee Chok to continue on in excruciating pain and leaving the tusk to fester, simply was not an option. In April of this year, I was contacted by a man called Cedric Tutt. He introduced himself as a dentistry specialist and said he could help Mee Chok. Even though I had received dozens of messages along these lines, from trusted and well known names around the world, there was something about Cedric’s message that touched me more than any of the others. My gut instinct told me to trust in Cedric and so we began communicating back and forth, brainstorming about possible solutions for Mee Chok. Meanwhile, Mee Chok was having weekly examinations by the vets from Lampang. They all agreed Mee Chok was in pain and that his situation was critical, but still did not agree that extracting the tusk was an option. Anon and I organized a meeting and I put it to the vets that if I could find a dental specialist, who agreed to carry out the entire procedure and follow up with his aftercare, would they support us with the sedation and overall management of Mee Chok during the operation… They eventually agreed and a date was set! Despite being told surgery was complicated and there was a high risk factor involved, I just knew in the depths of my heart that extracting the tusk was what needed to be done. Dr Cedric Tutt had a wealth of knowledge and experience. The Thai vets had known and treated Mee Chok for the past four years and I was convinced if I was able to bring these two key factors together, Mee Chok would be pain free at last. So, on the 22nd June 2014, at 09.45am, Dr Tom and his team sedated Mee Chok and prepared him for surgery. Once he was visibly calm, Dr Cedric Tutt started the procedure. At 10.03am, Dr Tutt dislodged the first shard of tusk. It was an inch wide, two inches long and very sharp. Dr Tutt remained focussed and Dr Tom monitored Mee Chok closely throughout the surgery. We were all tense and openly concerned, but everyone stayed positive and professional. At 10.42am, the final piece of tusk was removed, making a total of nine individual fragments of badly infected tusk. After scraping out all the infected tissue, Dr Tutt and Dr Tom packed the cavity with long acting antibiotics and stitched the flesh together, ensuring the antibiotics stayed in and minimizing the chances of dirt or dust entering the sulcus, thus causing further infection.The surgery, thanks to the efforts of Dr Tom and his team, our BLES mahouts and of course the amazing Dr Cedric Tutt, was a success!

In preparation for Mee Chok’s big day, we had created a treatment and support frame for Mee Chok. We purchased a 3 ton overhead crane, which was connected to two harnesses we had especially made to go under Mee Chok’s belly. The harnesses and crane, were supported by the treatment frame and we built this as a precaution, just incase Mee Chok’s condition failed during the surgery. Should his legs give away, we were ready to support his body weight. The day after surgery, Mee Chok was given a variety of his favourite treats, including nuts, sunflower seeds, mangos, papayas and coconut vines as a well done for being such a brave boy.This really should not be overlooked. The success of the surgery was mostly down to Mee Chok himself and the trust he instilled in the vets and mahouts. Nearly two weeks on since his surgery, Mee Chok is making superb progress! The vets from Lampang visited yesterday and were delighted with him. The recovery enclosure we are building for Mee Chok is almost done, which will mean he has a sterile and spacious area he can relax in, until the wounds in the sulcus are fully healed.

The 26th June is always a powerful day for me. It is one filled with emotions and even though it has been ten jam packed years since my darling Boon Lott died, it still hurts just as it did the day he passed. The death of a loved one is such a hard thing to deal with. Even when you know it is the inevitable and you think you are prepared for when the time comes, it is just so unbelievably painful. I knew then, (as I do now) when I held Boon Lott in my arms, that his passing was for the best. He would no longer be suffering, no longer be in pain, no longer be confused, but… he was gone. Death is so final and maybe that is what we find so difficult to come to terms with. Ten years is a long time. So much has happened and BLES has achieved so many positive things for the elephants of Thailand. I know Boon Lott’s spirit is with me wherever I go. I always feel his energy buzzing around me and then I will see his butterfly…

This past week has been busy… As many of you will know, BLES has only ever had one decent, road worthy truck, which we purchased when we first opened BLES. This truck has been used for absolutely everything and since the beginning of this year, it has started to fall a part. It was spending more time in the repair shop than on the road. The repair bills were high and we were having to run around and borrow cars to keep BLES ticking along. Well, thanks to our devoted, loyal and kindhearted fans on Facebook, BLES was able to raise enough funds to buy TWO new trucks!!! We have purchased a tractor truck for the mahouts and a ten seater minibus, which will be used to transfer guests back and forth to the airport and to transport dogs and cats to the vets etc. These two trucks are an absolute blessing and we are so thankful to each and every person who donated!

This is the magical thing about BLES — we work together with you to make things happen! Thank you so much for sticking with us, through all of the ups and downs.

Trunks of love and thanks to you all,
Katherine and the elephants xx

8 June 2014

The rainy season is starting to creep up on us and all of us here at BLES are rejoicing. With the rains, come cooler, more comfortable temperatures, lush, full and plentiful natural fodder in the forest for the elephants and of course… MUD!!!! Elephants just love mud. It could possibly be their most favourite thing, besides, family, friendship and food.

For our guests at BLES, it is their favourite thing to sit and watch the elephants playing so carefree and so wholeheartedly. We all laugh out loud at the childlike antics of Wassana and Pang Dow scrambling over each other, squashing each other and leaning on each other, as they slip and slide all over the place. Even Lotus, who also seems to enjoy watching her two best friends make spectacles of themselves, lowers her great body into the water and takes the weight off of her sore feet. Lotus is a tad more reserved with her playing, but she is just as much fun to watch. She rolls with grace, and swings her legs side to side, submerging her face and blowing bubbles under the water. The feelings of joy and contentment bounce from the elephants, to us, back to the elephants, back to us and it always makes me wonder how anyone can possibly think it more entertaining to sit and watch an elephant show, where the elephants are forced to perform dance routines, basketball or football games, throw darts, ride bicycles, paint self portraits — all of these ‘talents’ are in my opinion, vulgar and unimpressive.

What many people traveling to Thailand are unaware of is the brutal and violent training these elephants are forced to go through. Many baby elephants die from the trauma of being snatched from their mother, when they are just months old and this is saddening beyond belief. So many people ask, ‘Why’? Why are the elephants being put through these horrors and being treated so appallingly? Well, the answer is simple. It is because of us — tourists traveling to Thailand, watching these shows, riding the elephants and creating a demand for this abuse. I have said it over and over again — tourists traveling to Thailand are the ones with the power to stop all of this. It will not happen over night, of course, but we can start the wheels in motion and by doing that, we will be securing a better world, with healthier and happier elephants, for our children to experience.

Another question often put forward, is ‘How will the mahouts make money if they are not working their elephants in camps’? My answer is this — By creating an eco friendly home for the elephants, where their welfare is put first. Where visitors can wash the elephants down, feed the elephants, watch them interact naturally, bath and play in the mud. It is my belief that more tourists will come to Thailand, spending more money, as they want to encourage the wellbeing of the elephants. This is what I believed 12 years ago when I was backpacking my way around Asia and it remains my belief to this very day.

BLES works around the clock to ensure our elephants have the absolute best of everything. We work hard, but our rewards are plentiful. Watching the elephants blossom and come in to their own, is one of the most beautiful experiences and keeps us striving onwards to secure more land, creating more space for more elephants that are in desperate need of our help.

We can not do this without you. Your contributions of funds, time, supplies and resources are what keep BLES alive. It is you who empower us to continue on, through the challenges, through the ups and downs of which there are many. BLES is an international family, held together by our love for animals and our need to stop cruelty and start a movement towards a kinder world. Many people wont realize that we rely solely on the funds you donate to provide our rescued animals with the care they need. There are a million causes in this world, all of them worthy and in need of support and that is why, whenever you donate to BLES, it means so very much to us all. Every single donation is appreciated and valued and spent on the animals and their individual needs.

If you can donate, please do donate and know that you have played a part in allowing Wassana and all her friends to enjoy hours of muddy freedom. If we are to welcome more elephants into our loving and protective arms, we need the support from you…

BLES is a hive of energy these days. We are working away on the building of the recovery area for Mee Chok and making preparations for his surgery that will be taking place on the 21st June. We have an international specialist flying over from Cape Town and the wonderful vets from the elephant hospital here in Thailand, joining us to perform the procedure. Mee Chok is still responding well to his daily treatments and I am sure he can feel the buzz around BLES!

At the beginning of this month, BLES welcomed the founders of The Millennium Elephant Foundation, Sri Lanka. They had heard amazing things about BLES and how we care for our elephants and wanted to open a dialog with us, sharing our mutual knowledge to help benefit elephants across Asia. This meeting was brought together by the wonderful Laurene Knowles of Elemotions and BLES is proud to be working together, to help advise and support, in any way we can.

BLES also had the pleasure of Sarah Blaine, founder of Mahouts Foundation and Louise Rogerson of EARS this month. We spent every single minute of every day talking elephants and figuring out productive ways in which we can reach out and help more needy elephants. More information on these ideas will follow soon. BLES was also visited by Mark and Sam Green, founders of the incredible Dogstar foundation, Sri Lanka. Again, it was exciting to share plans for the future and I just can not wait to come together to help more dogs and cats in our local community.

We also had the absolute pleasure of hosting international TV chef and celebrity, Reza Mahammad earlier this month. Reza and his team wanted to play a part in helping to raise awareness and educate travelers to Thailand, about the plight of Thailand’s elephants. The program will be aired later this month on Food Network UK, which will also air on Travel Channel and will be shown in Europe, USA, Asia, South Africa and Australia attracting millions of viewers.

It is so encouraging to see so many individuals and organizations coming together and working as one for the animals. The question we should all be asking now is, ‘What part can I play in helping to end the abuse’?

Thank you so much for sticking with BLES over the years and believing in everything we do. Please continue to spread the word, raise awareness and funds for BLES, as we really can not carry on without ongoing support from you.

Trunks of thanks and love from all of us here at BLES,
Katherine xx