Mae Dok Retirement:
It truly has been awe-inspiring spending this time with Mae Dok and the observing the new found friendship that instantly sprung only a few short hours after Mae Dok stepped off the transport truck into her retirement home almost 2 months ago.
In February we were preparing to bring an elephant named Lanna to BEES, we were getting close to the fundraising goal, prepared the enclosure and had arranged for a new mahout to join the team. Suddenly the owners turned around and said they are no longer selling. We wanted to be sure so we traveled the long journey South. On the journey to meet Lanna’s owners to try to discuss further and finding they would not budge, something incredible happened. We received a phone call from the family of Mae Dok a 58 year old elephant, that we have been trying to retire for 5 years now. The call was to let us know Mae Dok was for sale. Mae Dok translated into English means Mother Flower. But her real name on documents is Mae Hangdok which translated into English means White Tail. Mae Dok has a beautiful white tail and even blonde chin whiskers. We don’t only identify this sweet girl by her white tail and whiskers, but also by the trunk deformity she has, due to machete injury from many years ago.
Mae Dok grew up in the village of Huay Suer Tow which is the previous work place and home of Thong Dee and Boon Yuen. Mae Dok spent much of her early years logging and helping with farming, when logging was banned she joined 30 other elephants for tourism in the area giving rides. Most recently she was used at the Karen Long Neck touristic Village as an attraction where she would beg people to feed her banana and sugarcane for 20 baht and have selfies taken. During her life time she gave birth to 2 still born calves and had 1 successful baby after the devastating still births. The baby daughter was separated from her at 1 year old and used as a tourist attraction in Chiang Mai, we really hope we can track her daughter down one day. Now, 30 years on from the logging ban, Mae Dok was the only elephant left in the area. Due to dimineshing space and poor economy in the area all the other elephants were sold off or those rented out from other communities were moved on to work in larger camps in Chiang Mai.
Except for Thong Dee and Boon Yuen, whose owner was told about us after we had visited Mae Dok at the bridge the first time, about 5 years ago and decided to retire them to BEES. We had been waiting to do the same for Mae Dok for a very long time. Finally our dreams came true. We wondered if she would remember Thong Dee and if they may be friends?!.
For 5 years since our first meeting with some of Mees children, they had expressed they wanted to sell Mae Dok, but out of respect for their elderly mother Mee who loved her elephant and didn’t want her to go, they waited until she passed away. They wanted to let the matriarch of their family pass in peace with her large friend nearby so she could feel at ease knowing Mae Dok was there.
We were told dear Mee, the elderly owner was 108 Years old when she passed away in late January. Mee had been Mae Dok’s owner since Mae Dok was born. We were told during our meeting and signing of documents for Mae Dok’s retirement that Mee, gave birth to 15 children in her lifetime.
Sadly, 6 children have since passed away. When Mee passed away she was a Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, leaving 9 remaining children, most of which have adult children and grandchildren. Mae Dok is very well known in the little Karen village. Each day when Mae Dok returned from the bridge at the touristic village, she was always greeted by many happy faces, ready to give her snacks on her walk to the forest, at the edge of the village for a night of rest, before returning to the bridge to spend her days. We had an opportunity to watch her walk from the bridge, through the village and to the forest edge. It was truly touching to see how loved she was in the community.
It brought many emotions, we felt sad for those who have grown up with this sweet girl, who has been a big part of their community and brought them a living over the years. We felt that it was sad for them that they will no longer get to see her and show their love and appreciation. We felt happy to learn that she was wanted and that she never had to go to harsher work in the camps and we had this opportunity to retire her. Due to lack of interest from the younger generation in the family to take over the full responsibility of her care, lack of land and space available due to large farming business encroaching the area, there was no where left for her. She was the last elephant in the touristic village, the last elephant for the family, with no other elephants and not enough money for them from tourism in the village, it was time for them to let her go.
Mee’s kids planned on selling her to the first person who would offer them what they needed, they had an offer, but the buyer then decided to buy an elephant closer to their camps location. The large family wished to split the requested 1.5 Million THB funds between them for their livelihoods. We knew that if we didn’t find a way to retire Mae Dok that she would be sold on to further work, likely harsher then she has ever experienced.
Although we had raised a large sum of funds already, we were far off the total needed for Mae Dok and we had to pull funds from here there and everywhere, to ensure we could retire Mae Dok.
THE BIG MOVE:
Monday 4th March was a day spent running around madly pulling everything together, we got the transport truck banner made with the list of sponsors, called different government offices to get the ball rolling for transport approval, we packed our truck, assembled a little transport Team for the journey and headed up to Mae Hong Son on Monday Evening. We found a hotel nearby to rest to be ready for a big day, the following day.
Tuesday 5th March was spent finalizing transport documents and observing Mae Dok going about her day. She was chained on a long chain in an overgrown farm on the edge of her home village, the only home she has ever known. She was munching on grasses and splashing with mud. Her family came to visit her throughout the day to say goodbye and it was so touching to see how affected members of the family were by Mae Dok’s presence over the years and how lovingly they said goodbye and gave her banana offerings. The two eldest mahouts who have spent the most time with her, spent Tuesday watching over her and cutting banana trees for her for the last time, they told us many beautiful stories and spoke of how sweet Mae Dok is and how she likes to chirp and grumble even with no other elephants around. She is a very talkative elephant.
Wednesday -6th March – Transporting Mae Dok to her new home. We all had trouble sleeping Tuesday evening, their was lots of nerves and excitement, anticipation for the new dawn and what it would bring.
We set off around 5am and met Wimon our favorite Transport truck driver, on the way to Mae Dok’s location. To try not to add to her stress, we stopped a few kilometers away to set up the padding on her support beam and tie up the sponsorship banners on the sides of the truck. Mae Dok had never left her village, she had never been on a truck, we were not sure if she would get on the truck. Mae Dok hesitated and stood at the back of the truck for some time vocalizing and reluctant to lift her feet. With the gentle persuasion of Wimon the driver, the mahouts, some of the family members and the BEES transport team, Mae Dok eventually lifted her legs up onto the truck and slowly edged forward. Once she was safely secure we were able to start the journey to BEES.
Mae Dok has been a huge part of Mee’s Families lives for nearly 60 years. The family expressed how grateful they were that we were able to gather the funds to retire Mae Dok and help support their many family members. Our little team loaded up feeling so relieved that Mae Dok was on the truck, but also overwhelmed with emotions thinking about her old life and what she would finally have at BEES.
The truck set off around 7.30am and we followed closely behind. We watched as the truck took the bends and how Mae Dok supported herself. We made a few stops on the journey as the temperature began to rise. About 45 minutes into the journey Mae Dok stopped eating, she seemed to be feeling a bit off, we think she was motion sick. She very much appreciated cool hose downs at the pit stops and would suck the water up into her trunk and spray herself making momentary rainbows with the water spray as the sunlight glistened down on her.
At around 1.30pm after 7 long hours, the transport truck pulled up across the drive way from BEES. She stepped down off the truck a little wobbly, her legs were quite stiff.
The chain was removed and Mae Dok vocalized with low grumbles as she made her way down to the grass field. We gave her a spray down with the hose. We then let her explore and followed her lead, allowing her space to take in her new home. She walked towards our mahout housing and stood in an open area, she dust bathed and vocalized, she told off the dogs and waved her trunk about sniffing the air gathering all the information she could. After about half an hour she headed in the direction of her new enclosure. The visitors at the Sanctuary at the time and our project assistant Got had prepared a nice little welcome feast, we thought she could smell it and was heading in that direction. She decided to continue exploring. It seemed she wanted to stretch her legs and explore some more, following her lead she led us down the stream. The same direction where both Mae Kam and Thong Dee had walked that morning. She sniffed the air and soon came across a relatively fresh Mae Kam dung. She showed a lot of interest and then continued on and spent time mud and dust bathing. After some time watching her, she stopped and raised her head, her ears opened wide and began sniffing down stream.
At that moment we noticed Thong Dee and her mahout in the distance making their way back from a day out foraging and exploring, it was the moment we have ALL been waiting for………………………Mae Dok was very very interested, but hesitant to step forward. Thong Dee was very anxious and hesitant also. Thong Dee flared her ears and seemed very anxious and concerned, she moved quickly past Mae Dok keeping a distance. Mae Dok still directing her trunk towards Thong Dee made deep vocalizations. Thong Dee did stop momentarily and looked back at Mae Dok with her ears and eyes wide open and then continued on towards the night enclosures. We were a little sad that Thong Dee didn’t take much interest and they didn’t properly meet, but we need to remember that Thong Dee is much older now, has experienced a lot of loss, rejection and been bullied in the past, we also don’t know for sure if they were friends in the camp or if they only worked together. She may one day let her guard down.
Only time will tell…..
This was not the end of our first day with Mae Dok though, some pretty spectacular things followed.
At around 3.20pm Mae Dok was very sleepy and decided to lay down on the soft sand at the edge of the stream. She took a 5 minute nap and it was so beautiful to watch her. After her nap she woke and stood up, again vocalizing. She is a real chatter box. She has A LOT to say. She again dusted herself and continued to chit chat away and made her way up onto some rocks and stood there for a while sniffing down the stream. She could sense something. It was about 3.45pm when we noticed Mae Kam was on her way back from her day out with her mahout exploring and foraging. Mae Dok took lots of notice, she was VERY interested, began vocalizing and reaching out. She continued to stand in the same place.
Mae Kam approached slowly and stopped about 3 meters away. We didn’t hear any sounds from Mae Kam to begin with, it appeared she was a bit nervous and seemed to want to get past, but as Mae Dok wouldn’t move, she retreated. She then stopped and turned back again as if to realize “Hang On, I need to go that way for my afternoon treats”. Mae Kam stood anxious and seemed to be contemplating her next move. She wrapped her trunk up and began to bite down on her trunk. She was nervous and unsure what to do next. Mae Dok still vocalizing and sniffing towards her decided to take the next move…………… she took a large step forward and reached out to Mae Kam. Then the most incredible, magical, unexpected display took place. They have been inseparable ever since.
From that first moment, Mae Kam and Mae Dok have spent everyday by each others side. They go to bed together, they dust and mud bath together, they forage together, they gossip together and the day would not be complete without the daily bath snuggles, while soaking in the river together.
It has been so beautiful watching these ladies, loving on each, blissfully, beautifully, spending their days, just being elephants.
THANK YOU TO EACH AND EVERY PERSON WHO DONATED TO HELP MAKE THIS POSSIBLE!!!!
Do you love Mae Dok’s story and want to be a part of it?
We desperately need to replenish around 500,000THB/15,700USD as we borrowed these funds from other areas to secure Mae Dok’s Retirement, making it very challenging for us to move forward with other plans.
Please continue to spread and donate if you can, spread the word or even Visit Us, Everything helps! We cannot do what we do without you.
DONATIONS CAN BE MADE VIA:
BEES Elephant Foundation Simply Giving: https://www.simplygiving.com/appeal/ElephantRescueFund
BEES ELEPHANT FOUNDATION (Direct Transfer via Internet Banking Or TransferWise) *Please PM us if you chose this method so we can make sure your donation arrives.
Account Name: BEES Elephant Foundation
Account Number: 006 3 31743 8
Swift Code: KASITHBK (It can also be done under KASITHBKXXX)
Bank Name: Kasikorn Bank
Bank Address:45 Moo 4 Charoenniran , Tambon Chang Keung, Amphur Maechaem, Chiang Mai, Thailand 50270
Beneficiary Info –
Name: BEES Elephant Foundation
Address: 188/1 Moo 3, Tambon Chang Keung
City/Town: Amphur Maechaem/Chiang Mai
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