Katherine’s Journal

16 December 2014

16th December 2014 — Honouring our beautiful bulls on Father’s Day

In Thailand, the 5th December is the most important day on the calendar as it celebrates the birthday of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej. The king of Thailand is the world’s longest reigning monarch and the people of Thailand show their deep admiration for their King, by celebrating Father’s Day on His birthday, as they recognize, love and respect their King as their leader, their protector — he is the father of the Kingdom of Thailand and all its people.

Every year on this day, BLES celebrates all our fathers, namely our mahouts and our two beautiful old bulls, Tong Jai who is 70 and Somai who is 68. Last year, we laid out an elaborate buffet for our two elderly boys of all their favourite treats and our mahouts, who we recognize as being the caregivers and protectors of our elephants, were given some of their favourite treats too — a box of beer, a pack of red bull and a lottery ticket each!

This year, our Father’s Day festivities have been slightly subdued, due to recent sad events surrounding both our bulls. Almost one month ago, Tong Jai was rushed to the elephant hospital in Lampang due to a suspected tusk fracture. Anon and I noticed blood dripping from Tong Jai’s trunk and swelling close to his eye. He went for four days refusing to drink. There was also a dramatic drop in the positioning of his right tusk and a complete change in his behaviour. He became jumpy and easily spooked, refusing to lie down at night and go on walks. We decided to move Tong Jai to the elephant hospital where he could be observed by the veterinarians, receive expert treatment and also where we could determine an accurate prognosis for Tong Jai’s loss of blood. On Thursday of last week, the vets decided that Tong Jai was strong enough to be sedated and undergo an endoscopy up through his trunk. X rays had failed to provide any information and so Tong Jai was put on daily IV fluids — Baytril x130ml, Metrogyl x30ml and Haemaccel x30ml and iron supplements to increase his red blood cell count.

Since arriving at the hospital, Tong Jai’s health has improved and he has gained 200kg in weight. Anon has been with Tong Jai every minute of every day, reassuring him through every step of his treatments. The endoscopy showed that there are two different types of puss forming high up in Tong Jai’s trunk. There has been a shift in the position of the tusk and the tissue is inflamed. The vets were unable to detect any fracture or break, but do suspect an abscess close to Tong Jai’s brain. If left untreated, this could eventually cause brain damage and of course sever pain and distress. Tong Jai is now on aggressive antibiotics and anti inflammatories, on top of the daily hydration fluids. So far Tong Jai has responded well to this treatment and Anon is now teaching Tong Jai to have trunk washes, which involves feeding a tube up through the nostrils of his trunk. Obviously we are all desperate to bring our magnificent tusker home, but it is comforting to know that for now and the foreseeable future, Tong Jai is receiving care from a dedicated team, headed by Anon, who we all know will do all he can to keep Tong jai as happy and comfortable as possible.

Two weeks ago, Somai gave us all an awful fright when he collapsed and appeared unable to stand. Once we had encouraged him to rise, we moved him in to our medical hut and administered IV fluids. Somai’s eyes rolled in to his head as he rested his huge trunk of the support frame. His legs continued to give way and all of us were terrified Somai had come to the end of his life’s journey and we were going to lose him. The next day, Somai was still refusing to eat and his stomach had become hugely bloated. We again moved Somai in to the medical hut and performed an enema, which successfully cleared a minor blockage. Elephants go through six sets of molar teeth, which regenerate themselves approximately every ten years. Once they reach their sixties and are on their final set of teeth, it is common for elephants to suffer from constipation as they are no longer able to grind down their food and digest it sufficiently. As Somai is in his late sixties, this is sadly going to be an ongoing worry for us all. However, thanks to a recent donation from our friends at the Mahouts Foundation BLES has been able to invest in an industrial food shredder for our Elder elephants. Here at BLES we have four elderly elephants, Somai (68), Tong Jai (70), NaamFon (63) and Boon Thong who is in her mid sixties and all of them have to be kept on a special diet consisting of more soft fruits than our other elephants. The food shredder has proved a huge success with our Elders and Naamfon in particular can not get enough of her breakfast consisting of shredded bamboo branches, sugar cane, ripe bananas, rice husks, rock salt and grass stems.

Thank you so much to the Mahouts Foundation for continuously supporting BLES and enabling us to provide the best possible care for all our elephants. Our Elders are eating well and defecating with more ease, thanks to you!

Although Somai did return to full health after this scare, rejoining the other elephants grazing in the forest, last week he took another dramatic decline and was rushed immediately to the elephant hospital in Lampang. Somai again collapsed, but this time was too weak to stand unaided. His stomach again began to swell and we all feared the worst… Driving him to the hospital (a six hour journey) was terrifying. Somai stood with his head resting on the side of the ambulance, his eyes closed and his mouth wide open. His back legs were trembling and twice gave way on him. We stopped on the side of the road and performed an emergency enema, which thankfully was successful and Somai seemed more comfortable. It was dark when we finally arrived at the hospital, but the vets and mahouts at TECC were ready to assist Somai in any way he needed. After examining him, we decided rest was best for Somai and treatment would start first thing the next morning. Somai was put on daily fluids — Bayrena x170 ml and a strict shredded food diet. He has made steady improvements and we welcomed him back home yesterday afternoon! Somai is still slow and we are keeping him off the walks for now, until he regains his strength, but it is so good to have our gentle old boy back home!

Our world famous Gossip Girls could be growing from three to four if Naamfon (our newest rescue) continues to shadow them as she has these past few weeks! Wassana and Pang Dow are eager to make friends with Naamfon, but Lotus is more reluctant and has made a point of trying to push Naamfon away on a number of occasions. Lotus deliberately puts herself in between Naamfon, and her two best friends, making sure they do not interact and pushes Naamfon away. Naamfon still tries to join the girls and today, Lotus finally showed signs of being submissive to Naamfon, which could mean she has finally accepted the new addition!

Pang Noi and Pang Suai have been climbing to the very tops of the hills and devouring all the fresh foliage up there. They have also been exploring on the two newest pieces of land BLES has recently been able to save, thanks to a fundraising campaign run on Facebook last month. There is nothing more important than land preservation as it not only benefits our rescued elephants, but it saves local wildlife and natural habitat, which would otherwise be destroyed. We can not thank you enough for your unshakable faith in BLES and everything we stand for. You have all played a key part in helping BLES grow and we simply wouldn’t be where we are today without you and your unbelievable ability to help us move mountains for our elephants.

Christmas is quickly creeping up on us and this year BLES will be handing out hampers full of goodies to our elderly community here in Baan Na Ton Chan on Christmas Day. Last year BLES collected donations from around the world and purchased clothes, toys, games and treats for the children at our local autistic school. We spent the afternoon playing with the children and helping them open their presents, which was a lot of fun for everyone! Listening to their laughter and holding their little hands was a personal highlight for me last year. This year I look forward to sitting with our local elders, hearing their stories and holding their hands, as my family and I give them blankets, mosquito nets and baskets of treats at our local temple.

BLES has had some technical issues this past month and all records of all bookings have been lost. If you have made a booking for 2015 and have already sent your deposit, please can we ask you to get back in touch, so we can figure out who is arriving, when and where they need picking up from!! Thank you for your patience and understanding — it has been a trying month, in many ways!!

Wishing you all lots and lots of love and laughter during the festive season.

Trunks of thanks for your support,
Katherine and the elephants xx

5 November 2014

We have been busy busy busy!

Last month was a very active time for all here at BLES! We started the month of October by marching side by side with our rescued elephants, to show our unshakable support for the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, held annually in cities throughout the world to show a united stand against the ivory and horn trade. This years march was held in 120 international cities and attended by hundreds and thousands of people. BLES joins the rest of the world in pushing for a complete, worldwide ban on the ivory trade. To make sure our voices were heard, we made t shirts and banners for all our mahouts. The t shirts were elephant grey with blood red bold reading THAILAND BAN ALL IVORY. We wore our t shirts with pride and will continue to think of innovative ways to get our message across to the governments of the world, until there is a complete ban issued. There are thought to be an average of 96 elephants killed every day in Africa. If nothing is done to stop the trade in ivory, there will be no elephants living in the wilds of Africa by 2025. This is shocking and we can not stand back and let this happen. We all have a role to play in ending the trade. In recent years, authorities have cracked down on the illegal importation of ivory smuggled across the borders from Africa. This is a big achievement and should bot be overlooked, however, by making it tougher to import African ivory and not introducing a complete ban on the trade, this will only endanger Thailand’s elephants more. This year there has already been an increase in the number of deaths of elephants, both wild and captive in Thailand. Male elephants are now being targeted for their tusks and being killed in the most unimaginable ways. Unlike African elephants, only a small percentage of male Asian bulls carry long ivory and this has probably been their saving grace, until now. (Both African females and males have long tusks). In our local village, there have been three elephants targeted by poachers in total. One of them was killed, one was beaten and fed sedatives and the third was repeatedly electrocuted until he collapsed. Anon and I knew these elephants and their owners well and it is impossible to put in to words the devastation that is left behind by such a selfish and brutal attack on such a magnificent animal. It is pure madness and must stop — NOW!

On the 17th October the BLES team travelled 643 km from Sukhothai to Surin to follow up on two gorgeous young elephants who used to live with us, Tong Yui and Bong Being. It was wonderful to catch up with the owners again and see both the girls, who seem to be doing well. They have a good varied diet, get moderate exercise and appeared to be in good spirits. It has been two years since Tong Yui and Bong Beng had to leave BLES (due to the failing health of one of the owners) and this is the third time BLES has travelled the distance to follow up on their well being. BLES does not believe in renting elephants as it offers no long term protection for captive elephants in Thailand. When we first discovered Tong Yui and Bong Beng begging on the city streets in 2008, we negotiated with the owners for 18 months on how to help remove the girls from life on the streets. Both Tong Yui and Bong Being displayed signs of psychological and physical stress. They were losing weight and due to being fed increasing doses of amphetamines, were becoming more and more difficult to handle. The owners refused to sell the girls and so I made the decision to compromise my beliefs, and lease them. It was the only way we could bring them to the loving and protective environment of BLES. The girls stayed with us for two and a half years and discovered who and what they were — elephants! Simple things like digging in to the dirt with their toe nails and throwing it over their backs to protect their sensitive skin from painful insect bites – they did not know how to do this before coming to BLES. It was a joy to watch them learn how to take care of themselves, how to run, how to play, how to rummage through the forest, how to utilize their trunks to snap a strong arm of bamboo… Not a day goes by when those two precious girls don’t enter my thoughts. People often ask me if I think they will ever return to BLES and my honest answer is, I hope so, but I don’t know. One of the things BLES does best is maintaining positive and open relationships, wherever we go. We want the elephant community to know they can turn to us for our help at anytime and to trust us. This is paramount to building a brighter future for Thailand’s elephants. We are keeping up a healthy and happy friendship with the owner’s of Tong Yui and Bong Beng, because we care deeply about each and every elephant that passes through our doors.

A few days later, the BLES team was once again on the road, this time driving 587 km down to Pattaya. We were on our way to rescue a beautiful old elephant called Naamfon, who was working in a poor and run down tourist camp, giving rides. You can find all the details of her story in the journal entry below. Whilst in Pattaya, we paid a visit to another elephant we all hold very dear in our hearts, Boon Sri. We first met Boon Sri in July 2013. Her story can be found here. BLES did all that could be done to rescue Boon Sri from her miserable existence, but the owner of the camp refused to correct her paperwork, which meant there was no legal way Boon Sri could be removed from the camp. We brought Boon Sri and the other elephants at the camp sacks of ripe bananas and spent time with her, stroking her and feeding her the bananas. Boon Sri was calm, had gained weight and the swelling on her back leg was less dramatic. There were still the fresh and bloody puncture wounds in and around her ears from the hook, but I was very happy to see that her overall condition had improved since we had last been with her.

The rescue of Naamfon has been the most uplifting experience at BLES to date. Her transformation from a sad, nervous, untrusting elephant to a bright eyed, confident and sassy girl has had us all captivated and we are addicted to watching Naamfon’s rebirth! She has settled in to the BLES life beautifully. She has approached the other other elephants, but then retracted once they show an interest in her. Being able to interact freely is quite an intimidating notion for elephants that have spent their lives being kept on short chains, discouraged from touching or befriending another elephant. So, here at BLES, we allow our newly rescued elephants as much space and time as they need to get comfortable with our other residents. Naamfon delights in splashing in the streams and hiding deep in the heart of the bamboo bushes. She scratches and itches on every tree she passes and has created a number of dusting spots around the grounds. She is finding her place in the world again, as a strong, contented, wise and old beautiful elephant.

Boon Thong took a bad fall last week and it has effected her quite badly. She was very shaky and we immediately started her on a course of anti inflammatories, which she has responded well to. She has a number of grazes around her temples, jaw line and shoulder, but they are not serious and with daily cleaning they will heal in no time. The Gossip Girls have been enjoying the storms and covering themselves in thick mud! Lotus’ abscess is finally starting to close up, which is a big relief. There is not much puss coming out now when we flush out the abscess daily, and all the swelling surrounding the abscess has gone. Wassana and Pang Dow keep each other company during their daily foot baths, to treat their individual foot ailments (Wassana stood on a land mine and Pang Dow suffers from a broken wrist) and are now usually joined by Naamfon, who likes to watch the treatments from a  safe distance — the food hut! Somai was needing treatment on some infected fly bites on his stomach, but they have healed now and we are still performing regular check ups on our ‘Little’ Mee Chok, to check for any indication of a secondary infection in his sulcus, post surgery. The impressive Tong Jai has just come out of musth and is looking very well at the moment and has been spending time with Pang Suai and Pang Noi who seem to get quite excited by his mighty presence!

Christmas seems to be sneaking up on us all now and as always, BLES is going to be sharing the festivities with our local community. You can play a part in this and more information will soon follow!

Thank you so much for your endless faith in our much needed work. You are enabling BLES to grow and spread the seeds of welfare and awareness throughout the world. We are making a big and positive difference in our world — BE PROUD!!!!

Trunks of thanks for your support,
Katherine and the elephants xx