Elephants at large
Leaving Surin Town, with 17 intrepid travelers crammed into the back of an open truck, we headed out towards our home for the week, Tha Tum village, together with an assortment of luggage, hopes and expectations.
Our groupies for this trip were: Sue & Dave (that’s us) Aussies, Tonia & Susan (Brits), Barb & Sam (Canadians), Chris (Canadian), Wendi (Canadian), Yo (mixture German, French & US), Sharon & Jean (Brits), Shelley (Canadian), Jo, Paula & Liz (Brits), Margaret & Chris (Brits).
We also had our young leader Rocky on his first ever time as tour leader.
Strangers at first though we all became firm friends by the end of this incredible journey.
Surin Province, in northeastern Thailand, is right in the heart of elephant territory so it didn’t take long on the road for one of our group to cry out “elephant sighting!”. The energy became electric as we all craned our necks to catch a faraway glimpse of what would soon be our every-day.
Our every-day treat turned out to be hanging out with mumma Bank and baby Wan Dee in our own back yard. Every day. Can you even imagine that?
You should check out the story of these 2 lovely residents here at this link.
Despite our schedule seeming pretty intense, we were in fact quite chilled for much of the time, though there were several really important facets to this part of the trip.
Elephants are hungry
Indeed they are!
In fact our local guide Gun (aka bang bang) told us that an average adult male elephant eats around 300kg of food a day.
Our first task at the village was to head to a nearby open field to cut and collect a mammoth amount of bamboo-like grass, which we were told was elephant grass (happy to be corrected on that one).
Let me tell you it was an initial shock to the system for this pair of slow travelers.
It was hot and humid of course, and at first we all bungled along in groups of cutters and collectors/carriers.
I found out later on that being a cutter was the better option, but sometimes I’m a slow learner and I did my fair share of hauling huge armfuls of grass and lifting it up to Gun waiting in the truck before switching over. Anyway, by the end of the week we became a smooth operation of cutters and a chain gang of grass passers-on.
It was a very interesting exercise considering we were largely strangers from different countries and backgrounds, thrown together in a paddock, where the only instruction was to cut and haul grass. We did just fine.
All of this was accomplished without the input of expensive team building and leadership consultants. What we did have was “encouragement” from Rocky and Gun, to just keep going until we had enough grass to fill the truck. It was tough going but we pushed through with gusto.
Our coordination and productivity improved as we figured out each other’s strengths and preferences. I think I can safely say that each one of us felt extremely satisfied and proud of our hard yakka, plus there was the prospect of a cold beer at the end of the day.
Elephants love elephants
Oh, yes they do!
We were totally blown away when elephants from nearby properties started turning up with their mahouts in our back yard for a play date.
Elephants of different ages and sizes milled around hugging, sniffing and nuzzling each other with familiarity and companionship. Their joy at being together was apparent and it was an incredible feeling to be a part of that energy.
It was easy to pick which elephant was the naughty one, the playful one, the grumpy one and the really greedy one that spied a bunch of bananas sitting on a ledge, that headed straight over and gobbled up the whole lot.
Elephants can swim
And they love it!
After the visiting elephants had chomped through loads of bananas and the grass we’d cut for them they walked us, together with the mahouts, to the river. The giant beauties get to do this every day and they knew exactly which way to take us along the lane and which was their path to the river.
Wading in the water with our elephants was at first a bit freaky, we didn’t want them to roll on top of us, but there was nothing to worry about. The mahouts knew we were near them, and kept an eye on where the elephants were rolling about.
Did you know that elephant poo floats? Well I can tell you it does, but we were feeling so elated that it didn’t matter. It’s vegetable matter after all, and you know, we were swimming with elephants.
Being in the water with happily trumpeting and carousing elephants was truly the most incredible experience.
Elephants make lots of mess
You bet they do. Just like having teenagers, though a bit lovelier.
After the exhilaration of swimming and walking with the elephants we had to head back to the home-stay and clean up the yard after the party. Lots of grass and poo around the place needed to be collected and taken away for composting.
We were surprised to find so much leftover grass that the elephants didn’t eat. Seems they were quite fussy and only liked the sweet soft bits and so not all of our hard work was appreciated. Yep, just like teenagers.
Elephants are really smart
I think that’s already a well-known fact.
To see how the elephants interact with their mahouts is a delight. In most cases the elephants and mahouts have been together for many years and the communication between them seems almost intuitive. Like siblings.
We love elephants
Oh yes we do.
We feel incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with these most majestic beings, getting to know and understand a bit about their history and their lives now in the village, as well as their future.
Gun took the time to help us to become better informed about the plight of elephants in Thailand, the poaching of wild elephants and the cruelty to break their spirit so that they can perform publicly.
Like most people, we’ve had only a peripheral view of how elephants live in the wild and in captivity. There’s so much more work to do with education about the care of elephants without exploitation.
Bamboo loves elephants
In just one short week of this tour we couldn’t possibly grasp the full extent of the complex needs of elephants in Thailand. But what we have come to understand is the Bamboo organisation’s philosophy to honestly work towards creating awareness, not just for individual elephants, but for a better way to care for the elephants without exploitation and cruelty.
Here is a link to Bamboo’s website about their values and commitment for the care of domesticated elephants in Thailand.
If you’re interested in the trip we did, here is a link to the Young@Heart tour.
*The topic of elephants in captivity can be quite emotive for some people and I’m not going into the rights or wrongs here, as I’m certainly no expert. This is just my account of our experiences on our recent tour to a village where elephants have been kept for generations and where Bamboo is working with local villagers to improve the lives of the elephants. We paid for our trip and have no affiliation with the Bamboo organisation, other than being, overall, very happy participants.
** Many in our group shared their photos publicly and some of the pictures here are not ours. I’m sorry that I’m unable to identify the owners of the photos, but they are shared with the best of intent.