8 Years of Elephants at BEES
On the 29th May 2012 our lives changed forever. We had spent many months meeting and endless hours speaking with elephant owners trying to encourage them to join our new more ethical approach to Elephant Tourism and allow us to retire their elephants under rental contract. Finally after what seemed like an eternity we made a contractual agreement with an owner and we were walking our first elephant to BEES. Many thought we were crazy, this elephant was known in the region for throwing tourists from her back and injuring a few people. We knew the risks, but we simply couldn’t let her temperament keep her from having a quality life, we came together to start BEES to retire elephants in need. Due to her behavior she was not able to work any longer in the camps because she was ‘bad for the business’. Her owner had no choice but to bring her home, she was being chained in the small patch of forest above her owner’s farm and hadn’t seen other elephants for nearly two years, she was broken. We were going to do our very best to rehabilitate her and allow her to live a more natural life, we couldn’t turn our backs on her and her owner was willing to allow us to help her, we didn’t know where it would lead us. What was a one year contract, then turned into three years and then due to events that took place we would need to purchase Mae Kam to save her from returning to work (you can read here bio here). Here we are 8 years down the track and Mae Kam is a permanent resident and was followed by the permanent retirement of Thong Dee, Boon Yuen, Mae Mor, Fluffy and Mae Dok, other elephants also have temporarily joined us at BEES over the years for rest and care under contractual agreements. We had no idea that her rental contract would turn into us purchasing her after 3 years from her owners to save her from returning to the camps and that she would call BEES her forever home.
So much has happened over the past 8 years, it’s hard to put into words this crazy journey we have been on to get to where we are today. There have been tears of joy and happiness, frustration and sadness. Blood, sweat and tears have gone into the making of BEES and the support from friends, family, local and global community all help make it possible. Boon Yuen, Mae Mor and Fluffy were able to spend their final days on this earth just being elephants. We will always feel so blessed to have been able to give them dignity and peace in their final days on earth. We will do all we can to help many more to have the chance to just be elephants before their time runs out.
Running an Elephant Sanctuary and Small Animal rescue is no easy task. It’s a wild adventure with so much emotion and so many plans that either come into fruition, change and at times fall through. We could not possibly have imagined all the challenges we would face getting into this, the sleepless nights, the financial burden, many thought we were crazy for even attempting to do what we do, but here we are still standing and doing all we can to make this work. There is no greater joy in this world than to watch an animal transform and thrive in their new life. We are passionate, we are dedicated and we are doing our best. When times get tough, we just keep going.
We started in the early days by building accommodation and setting up a visitor/volunteer program so that we could encourage tourists to move away from mainstream tourism, where they could make a positive difference in the lives of Elephants, Animals and the local community. Using Tourism (The visitor program fees) to make an income to provide for the Elephants, Animals, care staff and support local farmers and community initiatives. BEES has always been and always be FOR the Elephants, Animals and Community. In the early days we did allow some interaction with the elephants bathing, hand feeding and touching, but in 2018 we announced that we were going hands off. After years of allowing Tourists to interact with the Elephants for a very small amount of time each day, we decided that a true place for them to retire too in their old age was a place where they can build long lasting bonds with the people who care for them 24/7 their Care Takers (Mahouts), a person who the elephant can learn to trust and allow them to Love them, Respect them and Protect them while living a life as natural as possible without interference, the ability to just BE in their final years. No exploitation, just elephants being elephants.
Captive Elephants, Tourism and the Corona Virus:
The Captive Elephant situation is truly very complex, with not one answer but many. The situation cannot simply be fixed through a boycott and many of the petitions currently circling social media only focus on one piece of the puzzle, the Captive Elephants. These day’s petitions and demands from some Animal Rights Extremist groups don’t provide any solutions or sustainable alternatives. It is not as simple as boycotting camps, dismissing mahouts from their jobs, removing the chains from elephants, confiscating them from their owners and returning them to the wild. Their wild counterparts are struggling to survive, human-elephant conflict is rife, and there is not enough land and space due to mass habitat destruction. It is currently not possible to just free thousands of Captive held elephants back to their fragmented wild home. The corona virus situation has highlighted this exact point, freeing all captive elephants right now is just not possible.
If we truly want to create change we have to look at all sides of the story, the elephants, the elephant owners, the mahouts, the camp managers, the local people who have market stalls, hotels and restaurants that get a commission or good business from the elephant tourism. This year has been a hard year so far for BEES, as it has been for many people and organizations across the globe. The Corona virus situation has brought Tourism to a complete halt, many people and animals are suffering as a result. Over 100 Elephants have returned home to our district of Mae Chaem these past couple of months due to no income, because there are no visitors in the Elephant Facilities. Some Facilities have had no choice but to close, because they can no longer afford to keep going. Where does this leave the elephants?
With many facilities already struggling with a drop in tourism over the past couple of years and now a complete halt due to the corona virus, it has caused great stress amongst the Elephant community who own elephants, work with elephants or for businesses with elephants and local vendors who receive income as a result of elephant tourism.
As much as it is our dream here at BEES to see all elephants free from exploitation and abuse, hopefully one day living peacefully in their natural home, we must have a realistic approach. The only way the situation will change is through finding positive alternatives and solutions shaping the future of Captive Elephants. Whilst doing so we must keep in mind the needs of the elephants and those who live and work with them as well as those within the community around them. Many from abroad seem pleased that there is currently no tourism, but little do they realize that many elephants are suffering more so now than ever. Many of the mahouts are currently unemployed with no income, so whether it would be in a riding and entertainment facility, a bareback riding or simply a walking, bathing, feeding or Observation program there are currently many elephants that are now chained for longer periods, receiving little exercise and simply having food thrown at them. While some lucky ones have been able to return to the villages of their owners or in a facility where they may be allowed some forest time, they will not be able to sustain the elephants in the long term, feeding elephants is very expensive and mahouts and owners are now traveling many hours to find food for the elephants because there is simply not enough food in the forest to sustain them after a long drawn out dry season and mass burning of forests. Thankfully we are coming into the rainy season so the natural food in the forest is starting to return after wild fires destroyed what was left of elephant food source in the dry season. A halt in tourism has not come without its own challenges and the moment tourism returns many of the elephants will be returning to the facilities nearby the cities because Tourism brings a sustainable income.
The Establishment of BEES Elephant Foundation and What We Have Been Able To Achieve:
In November 2015 we were able to establish BEES Elephant Foundation here in Thailand, we were able to do this because a dear friend of Burm’s had bequeathed funds to support us, her name was Robyn (Robsy) Christiansen who devastatingly passed before she was able to come and visit us at BEES and see what we had built, she had been planning to come when we received the devastating news. It was her wish to support us in our mission and we felt it would be fitting that we use the funds to ensure that Robsys memory lived on in all we do. Thanks to Robsys generosity and to her family for ensuring Robsys funds reached us, we were able to establish the Thai foundation and to this day funds raised through the Foundation have secured more land, build 2 more night enclosures, permanently retired 3 elephants, bought land in Maechaem town and built an office and soon to be animal clinic, supported many surgeries of animals and vet checks and helped sterilize many animals, assisted in community development and education projects, tree planting and environmental protection projects. Robsy forever lives in the essence of all we do and her picture is displayed at the sanctuary and on the BEES Elephant Foundation office signage. Robsys love for Elephants will continue spread through all we do. We will continue to do all we can to help Elephants, Animals and the Community.
Mae Kam’s 8 Years at BEES:
June 1st 2020 was officially Mae Kam’s 8 years of retirement at BEES. We also celebrate 8 years since our first elephant walked on BEES soil, 8 YEARS OF ELEPHANTS!!!
Honestly, we are just so blown away, we couldn’t have ever imagined that we would be able to come this far, it’s such an emotional and special milestone. We can’t wait to share many more with you all.
Mae Kam is a very special elephant, we have been through so much with her, when she first arrived she was highly strung, but the transformation we have seen over the past 8 years has been incredible. She is still feisty, very cheeky girl and has her preferred humans, we still need to be cautious as she has her chosen few people. We can never under estimate her abilities and she likes to let us know when she doesn’t like something. We love her so very much and want the absolute best for her. Her 8 year retirement feast was extra special, she rumbled and grumbled in delight at all her sweets, sharing them with her best friend Mae Dok. Thong Dee our sweet old girl also got a basket of extra special treats.
Community Helps Build a New Rest Hut:
We had a rough start to 2020, most recently we had a deliberate arson attack on our rest hut and storage room/ camp site at our land at Maechaem River. We have had issues with poachers and illegal loggers since we secured the land because it was a hot spot for illegal activities, so we suspect they were behind burning it down. Sadly we lost a lot of important equipment for maintaining the land where we plant food for the elephants and have planted trees. Incredibly when our local community heard about the arson attack they came together to help us rebuild. We had no idea that we had made such an impact on so many people, it is truly heartwarming to have such support. Together with your donations and the helping hands of the community we were able to rebuild a stunning new rest hut.
By working together we can achieve incredible things. During these difficult and challenging times you can help us by sharing our posts, encouraging others to follow our work, donating to our Corona Virus Crisis Fund for BEES, adopting an elephant and when international travel is possible again, booking a stay at BEES. We have so much more work to do, cheers to 8 years of Elephants at BEES, 8 years of Mae Kam at BEES and 8 years of support from across the globe.
LOVE, RESPECT, PROTECT
Thank you all for your kindness and support!
From The BEES Team