This is my very first BLOG ever!! Here goes hope I get the settings right 😛
Well where to start, I guess I should start at the beginning…
The first time I traveled to Thailand was in January of 2009. I saw the abuse of elephants in the tourist trade and street begging elephants, it really broke my heart. There were signs everywhere promoting riding, circus tricks etc. It wasn’t long before I learned of the way elephants where trained to get them to perform these tricks and I felt so sad for them. In my travels I met many elephants that changed my life, I saw how so many elderly elephants were still used for work, malnourished, tired and worked long hard hours… I wondered ‘How on earth must these poor old creatures be feeling’…. As humans we have a choice to retire when life all gets to much or we are ready to rest.. Why don’t elephants have the same opportunity? … I made it my personal mission to do something about their plight.
The project all began to unfold in 2010 when my partner Burm Pornchai Rinkaew shared with me the dreams he had to develop his community and to teach children English to open up better opportunities for their future. He has spent a lot of time with elephants, growing up in Maechaem many of his friends had elephants in their family and Burm was always interested in hopefully seeing these elephants returned home after all those years of work.
Burm and I purchased our first piece of BEES land in January of 2011 which links onto Burm’s families land. We rent the remainder of the land from Burm’s parents and in the future hope we will be able to buy a lot more land to have as much space for the elephants as funds will allow. BEES was fully self-funded up until the arrival of our first elephant… Now we need your help! We can’t do it without donations and your support, we need kind people who care about the elephants and seeing them have a better future to help us make a difference.
Once we had purchased our land and had our rented space it was time to raise awareness of our project. Just after the purchase I returned home. I was still studying at Taronga Training Institute in Cert 3 of Captive Animal Management, I had to return to Australia for 9 WHOLE months to complete my studies and work, to get the funds together to start the project. During those 9 months Burm was working away, building our House and building BEES first ever volunteer accommodation, landscaping around the property and preparing everything for my arrival. Burm and His father Poor Chom built everything by hand and with very little outside help. Back in Australia I was working and studying 6 days a week all I was able to do was to put my heart and soul into work in the hope if I distracted myself the time would come around faster…. It was the hardest 9 months of my life! I was without Burm and desperate to get back to Thailand to start our dream… Time seemed like it went so slow!
But finally the day came 26th October 2011, it was the day I flew from my life of 18years in the same house, still living at home with parents, just finished my studies and having spent nearly every waking minute planning and thinking of what was going to happen next and it finally all fell into place! It was hard to say goodbye to my family but we will always be within each others hearts.
I had arrived in Thailand, the thrill and excitement and all the emotions running through my mind was incredible!
During this time we thought we already had an owner interested in moving his elephant into retirement and we where all so excited to go to meet him, sadly this owner had changed his mind and wanted to keep his elephant in work. This was very hard for us, but it was his choice and we couldn’t change his mind.
After many months of trying we thought that maybe we wouldn’t be able to change the minds of owners and we may never be able to retire an elephant and give them a better life…
Then we found Mae Kam’s Owner. It was early May 2012. Poor Luang Panuu had a very nice smile, he is in his 50’s and lived in a village in Khun Yuam/Mae Hong Song District. Mae Kam had been in his family since she was born, Panuu has been by her side most of his younger years but when he got older and had a family to take care of he put her to work under the care of others. Mae Kam had worked in logging as a young elephant, she has dragged some of Thailand’s largest Teak tree’s used to make furniture today. She has seen many things, it is also believed she was hauled into Burma when logging was band in Thailand in the late 1980’s, times would have been very tough, working long hours and dragging very heavy loads. She has only had one known offspring, he lived to about 3 years of age and just before he was due to be taken away for training a poisonous snake bit him and took his life, this snake was a King Cobra. Even to this day Mae Kam hates snakes, she is very defensive when a snake is about.
Panuu had moved Mae Kam back home to his village nearly 2 years prior to when we found her. Mae Kam a very sad looking elephant, with no mental stimulation was on a short chain and kept in a small patch of forest above the owners farming land. He said he brought her home because the people in the trekking camps kept beating her with nails on a stick causing huge golf ball sized scars around her backside, he was so far away from Chiang Mai were she was working, so he decided to move her home and care for her himself. He was so happy that their was a place for her to go that would be closer to his home and easier to visit her and check on her. He agreed to move Mae Kam straight away! Within 2 weeks the plans were set and Mae Kam began her walk to freedom on the 30th May 2012. I could not begin to tell you all the emotions at this time…. This was a huge step forward!
We thought Mae Kam’s walk from Mae Hong Song to BEES would be 3 days and we would be spending 2 nights camping over night in hill-tribe villages coming back down through the mountains. Mae Kam showed us all how quick she was… She ran her way to BEES! The owner had her all harnessed up and ready to go sadly in her trekking basket, we left Khun Yuam early on the morning of the 30th after a many hours Mae Kam began to grown weary but had covered an amazing amount of ground and we stopped over for the night in Ban Hoi Bong. The owner decided to remove all Mae Kam’s harnessing at the end of the day and we were so relieved and so happy to see her free of the basket! Hopefully, to never have to wear it again. On the morning of the 31st we set off early and began our decent through the mountains and closer to Mae Kam’s freedom!
After a long day we arrived in our village of Mae Tan, on the evening of the 31st in the pouring rain just after 8pm. We were greeted by so many villagers that had juicy banana’s for Mae Kam… It was beautiful! Then we made our way down to our BEES property in the pouring rain, by this time very difficult to take any photo’s!! Cold, tired and wet we left Mae Kam to settle and returned to her in the morning on the nice bright sunny new day, Mae Kam’s Freedom Day… She was released into the grass field with lush green grass for her to enjoy.
The days, weeks and months to follow were the most amazing months of my life, Mae Kam had transformed from a very sad elephant into a very happy, vibrant, energy filled elephant with a real personality!
Just 2.5 months later came our lovely old lady Mae Jumpee. She was 66 years old when we persuaded her owner to move her to BEES. She had many years of work giving rides and spent her last working years giving rides bare back. She has very large breasts and has had many offspring, the owner tells us she has had approx. 8 babies. Mae Jumpee’s spine has a large lump, damage from many years of carrying trekking baskets. We retired Mae Jumpee on the 15th August. She was transferred on her journey to freedom in a truck that left in the morning from Mae Taeng and arrived at BEES after a very long 7.5 hours. When we arrived it was very late at night and we unloaded her off the truck and gave her time to rest. She had her first day of freedom on the 16th August.
Mae Kam and Mae Jumpee first meeting:
The morning of the 16th was a very exciting one but also nerves where running wild as we weren’t sure how the two girls would react to each other. Mae Jumpee was released into the grass field first. We gave her sometime to smell out her new home and she got straight into munching on all the juicy green grass. When Mae Kam got close to the grass field she stopped and sniffed and turned around to run away a few times. After having near 2 years without another elephant to interact with it was as though she wasn’t sure who or WHAT Mae Jumpee was. After about an hour of Mae Kam sniffing about at a distance she finally made her move and slowly went towards Mae Jumpee, when she finally was able to build up the courage to get close enough she touched her trunk to Mae Jumpee’s backside….Squeak, Squeak, Squeak, Trumpets of excitement, low deep grumbles… It sounded as though their was a truck rally going on the grass field. It didn’t take long and Mae Kam and Mae Jumpee had formed a great relationship. Mae Kam the fast paced little runner had settled down and become a slow gentle walker stuck to Mae Jumpee’s side. A beautiful new beginning.
Mae Kam and Mae Jumpee are amazing… They spend their days in the forest or down the river, eating natural plants and bathing, dusting and playing with mud. They have both been so amazing to watch on their journey and have really settled into being elephants and enjoy life as it should be!
We rent Mae Kam and Mae Jumpee to keep them out of work and in a happy life at BEES, we need your help to continue to give them a happy life and keep them out of work….Consider sponsoring today!!
On the 30th of this month, May it will be Mae Kam’s 1 year since she began her walk to BEES.
On the 1st of June it will be Mae Kam’s 1 year FREEDOM DAY!!! Yay!!This will be celebrated with lots of banana’s, watermelon and sugarcane!!!
It has been an incredible start to our journey in creating BEES, we hope their will be many more beautiful memories to come through giving more elderly elephants freedom before its too late!!!
Thank you for your support! We couldn’t do this without you!
All Photos © BEES Elephant Sanctuary