Katherine’s Journal

13 March 2014

13th March — A day to celebrate all that is elephant…

Today, 13th March 2014, is National Elephant Day here in Thailand. Camps around the country will be putting on a grand display of elephant painting, elephant dancing, elephant boxing, even elephant mating and all to entertain the thousands of tourists currently traveling around Thailand. It is all a complete contradiction, of course. You do not celebrate an animal, by demeaning it, by forcing it to perform and entertain. Celebrating, to me, is when everyone is enjoying themselves and everyone is allowed to be, not to mention, comfortable to be themselves — including the elephants.

Here at BLES we are showing our love for our eleven rescued elephants, by taking them out on a long, all day walks and to play in the forest. We have just returned from our lunch time picnic of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves and various fresh vegetables and fruits and the elephants are slowly making their way back to BLES now…

There simply is nothing more enjoyable than to sit in the shade, with a gentle breeze in the air, watching elephants be elephants. They all took in in turns to roll in the mud and cool down. Mee Chok and Lom were reluctant to allow the other elephants in to their muddy wallow, but once they saw Somai striding off down the stream, they quickly rushed to catch him up! That was when Pang Noi and Pang Suai moved in and relaxed, rubbing their entire sides along the bank, stretching out and elegantly throwing sloppy mud along their backs, until they eventually looked like they were covered in chocolate!

Further along the stream, were Wassana, Lotus, Pang Dow and Boon Thong, who were soaking their feet and delicately plucking the vines from the trees. The Gossip Girls were wet and muddy, but Boon Thong, who doesn’t seem to enjoy the mud quite so much as the others, was dusting and spraying water on to her belly instead. Tong Jai had the longest bath this morning and closed his eyes with pleasure as he lay on his side, basking in the sunshine. It is such a magnificent and special sight, to see Tong Jai enjoying his freedom. It is my wish for every elephant, to know the joy our rescued elephants do. To be respected and celebrated for what they are, not for what tricks they can perform.

Today also marks the first anniversary of the death of Sweet Somsri, the elderly and very sick elephant we rescued last year. Somsri was only with us for six weeks, but she lived every minute of those six weeks to the full — usually a mouth full! I will never forget how wide her eyes used to go when she would walk around a corner and discover another delight at BLES. The pineapple plants, the bushy bamboo trees, the juicy banana trees — the banana hut — she walked wherever she wanted to, munched on whatever she wanted to and the whole time, she would whisper her contentment in low and gentle purrs. Even the day she died, she looked happy. My family and I spent the day with her at the elephant hospital. She had collapsed the night before, but the staff at the hospital had been able to get her standing again. We had gone to the market and purchased every possible elephant treat we could find and then arranged it on a rolling table for Somsri. We hand fed her the mangos, papayas, melons, bamboo roots, nuts, pineapples, oranges, jackfruit, cucumbers and corn and she was just so happy. None of us knew, in just a few short hours, she would be gone. Even though I only knew Somsri for a short period of time, she taught me so much. It was her, who made me realize that no matter how hard life has been, how badly you have been treated, there is always a chance to turn your life around and find peace, love, happiness and freedom once more. As I stood by her grave today, I closed my eyes and remembered the sound of her purr and the look on her sweet little face as she immersed herself in the lush greenery on her very first day here at BLES… Those moments are so precious and I will treasure the many joyful memories she gifted us in her short time here.

We have had an eventful start to the year here at BLES

Somai had a sudden and very scary decline in health. He was bloated and impacted and collapsed. We came very close to losing him completely, but the combination of his sheer determination, his calm and patient nature, with our relentless efforts to relieve him, saved him. For nearly three hours, the entire BLES team worked through the extreme heat to help stimulate Somai’s bowl. Performing an enema on an elephant is a messy and smelly job, but not one person hesitated. As I stood, watching my team working together, to save Somai, I felt proud and deeply grateful. They were amazing and so was the cheer we all let out once the dung was out — all 10.5kg of it! Somai is now on a special diet of softer fruits and less fiber. He is looking spectacular now and as I type this, I can see him enjoying a cool shower and scrub down. He is such a beautiful bull.

Mee Chok has also had a run of bad health this year. One of his tusks fell out, revealing a badly infected cavity. He was rushed up to the elephant hospital in Lampang, where he was admitted for a month. An endoscope was used to examine the cavity and after consulting with dental specialists, it was eventually decided that could return home, without surgery. However, since Mee Chok’s return, the cavity has become increasingly swollen. There is a small shard of tusk left in the cavity that is puncturing the flesh. It is looking more and more likely that he will need surgery and we are currently discussing our options with the vets from Lampang.

Lotus’s abscess still needs twice daily flushing out, but thankfully she is such a wonderful patient and deals with her treatments with complete grace.

Wassana and Pang Dow are having footbaths every other day. They stand side by side, supporting each other throughout the 40-minute soak and then Pang Dow takes it upon herself to stand over our vet nurse Lucy, and supervise, while Lucy treats the hole in Wassana’s damaged foot.

Pang Dow had a pedicure on her damaged foot last week. She was given a mild sedative to help keep her calm, as she has always been nervous of people touching her feet. Due to the uneven weight distribution, Pang Dow’s middle front toenail was split and splayed. She also had flaps of skin hanging over the nail, which could have easily torn and ended up infected. During the pedicure, Lotus and Wassana stood either side of their friend, making sure we were doing a proper job. We filed down the overgrown skin and were able to scrape out infected tissue that was forming behind the broken nail. We enlarged the gap in her broken nail, to allow the air to get in and Pang Dow has been walking around beautifully ever since.

It is such a joy to be able to provide the elephants and all our other rescued animals with the care they need. It is only through the support you give us that we are able to continue with our work. This time of year is always very expensive for BLES as the dry weather dramatically reduces the natural fodder available for our elephants to graze on. This means we have to buy in more supplementary food and our food bills practically double. We rely on your donations to feed our elephants and are so thankful for the generous donations you send. Thank you so much for enabling us to provide the best care for our animals.

Happy Thai Elephant Day to you all! xx

19 January 2014

Seedor Yai — One of the most physically impressive bulls I have ever known…

I first met Seedor Yai ten years ago. He was a logging elephant in the village of Baan Tuek who’s owner had fallen seriously ill. The owner begged me to buy his magnificent bull and made it his dying wish that Seedor Yai remained in the village, retired, in the safety of BLES.

At the time, I hadn’t even started building BLES. I was just a young girl, desperate to help and so after sourcing the funds needed, I returned to Thailand and saved Seedor Yai.

I remember so distinctly, handing over the funds to the owner and noticing his broken collar bone. I nervously asked if Seedor Yai had done that to him and he proudly answered, “Yes, he pushed me to the ground and held me there when we were logging many years ago”.

We knew Seedor Yai was dangerous before we saved him and we knew caring for him would be difficult, but he was an elephant in need and it was our job to find a way to work through his aggressiveness and give him the best possible life. Seedor Yai, despite all our efforts to work through his anger and hostility, never softened. He was so dangerous that I ended up securing 100 acres of forested land and relocating him there. He was the elephant that guests never saw, but always asked about.

It is with a very heavy heart that I share the news of Seedor Yai’s sudden and unexpected death. He was found, early morning, already dead and despite the vets efforts to investigate, there were no obvious causes for his death.

This sudden loss has shocked us all here at BLES. We all had a deep respect for him and tried our hardest to understand him. We loved him dearly and now we miss our strong and defiant friend.

Rest in Eternal Peace Seedor Yai — I hope you know how much we loved you xxx