Our Elephants – To Buy or To Rent !?
With the constant demand in tourism for elephant riding and activities, the trade continues. Whether we are buying to rescue/retire or renting to provide rest and care with the hope of long term retirement for our elephants, we have many questions on our minds. And sometimes fate makes those choices for us and sometimes we have to walk away, but never stop thinking about them in the hope one day we can help them. If we BUY this elephant, how will the owner use the funds? Will another elephant be replaced by the one we rescued? If we buy the elephant, it is one rescued, one off the streets, out of the camps and permanently free from work exploitation and abuse.
OR maybe the owners don’t want to sell and then we are asked to RENT this elephant to provide rest and care and/or long term retirement paying the elephants owners a monthly income so they can provide for their families. With renting we have no guarantee – the elephant may or may not stay long term. And in the end, as we have dealt with in the past, the elephants may have to leave… they have a nice rest, receive medical treatments, get back to good health and then have to leave because the owners decide they want them to work in the camps trekking or as a photo prop where they will make more money or the family has a superstitious belief that the elephant must go for various reasons. It’s very hard on other elephants they may have bonded with at the sanctuary and is also very stressful on the elephant that is returned to work or exploitive camps, as they become used to not having to work and be surrounded by crowds.
When we first started we were able to RENT an elephant for 3,000THB per Month, these days elephant rent is now between 20,000THB – 30,000THB per month.
In 2011 when we founded BEES an elephant over 50 years old was anywhere between 250,000THB to 400,000THB, now an elephant over 50 years of age is around 600,000THB to 1.5Million THB with younger elephants ranging from 1 to 2 Million THB
Time and time again we are faced with difficult choices and it seems that there is no real answer. We just do what we can, where we can. The elephant situation in Thailand is very complex.
BEES – Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary is at the forefront for Elephant welfare, in a constantly changing and evolving world, we feel it is our responsibility to lead by example and encourage the highest welfare standards possible.
Now in her 60’s was the first elephant to join BEES under 1 year retirement contract in May 2012. She had been chained above her owners farm for over 18 months after her owner removed her from the camps. Mae Kam had started acting out, she was suffering from depression and had been shaking mahouts and tourists off her back. As a result she was badly beaten and her owner was left with no choice at the time, but to bring her home. Mae Kam had delivered a still born calf in her logging days and right before she started acting out in the camps she had lost her second calf to a King Cobra bite. We had no idea where it would lead us taking an elephant like Mae Kam on as our first elephant to join the program, but what we did know – we had to help her. We walked Mae Kam to BEES on a near 75km Journey through the windy mountains. She loved her first year and the owner seemed happy with the extra income we were providing him in return for her freedom. We managed to get the owner to resign the contract keeping Mae Kam in Sanctuary for nearly 3 years under the rental agreement. In May 2015 her owner had requested to take Mae Kam home for a blessing ceremony, the Mut murr suu kwam – To bless the elephant and bring happiness to the elephant, family and the village she was born in. Mae Kam had not left BEES for almost 3 years, spending each day foraging in the forest free from work and abuse, we really wished she didn’t have to go and tried to persuade her owner otherwise, he wanted to take her and refused to change his mind. We had requested that they do not harness her with the trekking basket, but when they got 2 hours down the road, ignoring the request, her owner decided to harness her and climbed up on her neck to ride her. She immediately shook and threw him off her back, sending him to hospital with serious head injuries and broken vertebrae. Mae Kam was immediately walked back to BEES where she would stay, never to be tormented by her past again.
In the weeks to follow the owner and the family had said that they wished to sell Mae Kam, giving us a month to find the funds otherwise they would sell her on to continue trekking. We absolutely could not allow that to happen, knowing Mae Kam would be badly beaten, because she did not want to work. The owner and the family no longer wanted to work with elephants, believing Mae Kam was a bad omen and it was time to move away from elephants. In an amazing 13 days BEES friends from all around the word donated the funds to secure Mae Kam’s freedom and now Mae Kam can forever be in her sanctuary.
Mae Kam enjoying the quiet life
Thong Dee (Now aged at approx. 70 years):
Thong Dee and Boon Yuen
In November 2014 we were contacted by Poor Tawee, the owner of two beautiful ‘Golden Girls’ who wanted us to take on the care of his 2 elderly and poorly elephants Thong Dee and Boon Yuen both in their 60’s. Poor Tawee’s father passed in October 2014, leaving his elderly mother all alone with no one to care for her. Poor Tawee had spent near 30 years working by Thong Dee and Boon Yuen’s side. He fell in love with BEES and said he wished he could stay here, but he had a responsibility to care for his mum.
The Golden Girls arrived at BEES on the 22nd November 2014, both had very poorly digestive systems and worn teeth. We developed a supplemental diet, bought in vitamins and a purchased a food shredder, gave them a partly shredded diet to help them get the nutrients they needed. They both would have good days and bad, the bad days involved giving them enemas and oral medications to help them when they got impactions and couldn’t defecate without help. The tourism and logging industry took so much of their lives and they were both left with scars both physical and psychological.
On Wednesday 29th July 2015, as rain drops fell darling Boon Yuen closed her eyes for the last time and laid at peace surrounded by many that loved her, in her sanctuary. Boon Yuen left Thong Dee and a very heart broken Poor Tawee behind.
Poor Tawee decided Thong Dee should never leave BEES. In the months to follow we did a fundraising campaign to support Poor Tawee to have a Happy retirement and give Thong Dee the permanent natural home she deserved at BEES so she could spend the rest of her days grazing in the green grasses not too far from her beloved Boon Yuen’s resting place. Thong Dee has since tried to make friends with other elephants with no luck. We hope one day we can retire another elephant that she may bond with.
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 diminishing 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.
For 5 years since our first meeting with some of Mee’s 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 in the early 1960’s. 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.
Our dreams finally came true, Mae Dok at the age of 58, retired to BEES on 6th of March 2019. The moment she stepped off the transportation truck, she happily explored her surroundings. Thong Dee was frightened and moved away, but Mae Kam was very interested and they instantly became friends. Mae Dok and Mae Kam are now inseparable.
IN MEMORY OF THE GENTLE GIANTS LOST:
Boon Yuen retired to BEES with Thong Dee on the 22nd November 2014 after years of hard work and suffering digestive problems, she was aged late 60’s. On the 29th July 2015, as rain drops fell Boon Yuen closed her eyes for the last time and lay at peace surrounded by many that loved her, in her sanctuary.
Boon Yuen had been experiencing a couple of off days that week after getting a few wasp stings and eating thick grasses that only grow for 2 months of the year in the forest that caused weakness and a small impaction in her digestive tract. She was having these off days more frequently as she only had one tooth left on the top right hand side of her mouth, when Boon Yuen joined the retirement program Poor Tawee – the owner had expressed their health had greatly declined over the years and that he no longer wanted to work them in their old age.
Time was something we thought we would have had much more of, we were not ready to say goodbye to our Golden Girl Boon Yuen, it was just her time. We watched as her eyes lost their glow, her heart was giving up and her breath became heavy, her eyes began to go cloudy and she let out a puff of warm air and passed on.
The tourism and logging industry took so much of Boon Yuens life, she was left scarred and physically damaged. The last 7 months of her life she has spent in her sanctuary and surrounded by love. We gave her a Buddhist burial and covered her body with flowers and gave her fruit offerings. Forever in our hearts.
We remember Boon Yuen
Mae Mor was retired to BEES on the 27th March 2017 . We had met Mae Mor 4 years prior and had been searching for her owners as the camp owners were not fourth coming with information. When we finally found them, we learned they were teachers and they didn’t have time to care for Mae Mor, so they had rented her out to the camps and hadn’t seen her for years. They were unaware of the appalling condition she was in, covered in abscesses, being pulled along with a spiked ankle bracelet, underweight and suffering severe sunburn from not being provided with proper shelter and care. She had been paired with an inexperienced, Burmese mahout who was only 15 years old, that had no background working with elephants and was clearly scared of her, as a result he used weapons to protect himself. The owners were thrilled that we could offer Mae Mor a better life and negotiated a price for her. We moved her BEES on March 27th 2017, removed the spike bracelet and chain. She was very frustrated, she didn’t trust us and a few times she backed up on her new caretaker (mahout) almost trying to sit on him. We slowly began to gain her trust and she slowly started to let go of her past and enjoy foraging in the forest/along the stream, mud and dust bath and just be an elephant again. We offered her shredded food supplements and cut up her night feed of banana tree/corn stems/grass in to small pieces. We watched this angry, frustrated elephant begin to flourish in retirement.
On August 9th, 2017 Mae Mor fell terribly ill, based on her symptoms it was diagnosed that it was an esophageal obstruction that was causing her great discomfort and making her unable to eat. Under the guidance of TECC Government veterinarians, we started treating her with antacids, anti-inflammatories, pain relief, IV and rectal fluids, support therapy, laser therapy, electrolytes and vitamins to help keep her body’s needs in order. We spoke to a number of experts, both locally and internationally. The prognosis was not good. Due to her age and already compromised condition she had become anemic and blood work showed she had kidney disease. We worked around the clock to ensure that Mae Mor was getting the best care possible and to hopefully get her past this. The Thai veterinarians believed she was too old and the risks too high for sedation to explore further, but suggested we continued with treatment in the hopes she would stay strong and her body would be able to resolve the problem itself and push the obstruction through. We were repeating her blood work every few days to make sure that we were keeping on top of her condition. If she wasn’t giving up, we weren’t giving up. Sadly, when we thought she was improving, her frail old body could not go on any longer.
On Wednesday 30th August 2017 in the early hours of the morning, Mae Mor laid down to sleep on the soft sand bed of night enclosure and slipped into an eternal rest.
An angel now watching over us.
Mae Mor Memorial
We would like to acknowledge International Wildlife Protection whom sponsored Fluffy’s retirement.
Fluffy aged around 60 years old, was retired to BEES with a very stiff arthritic gait on the 14th October 2017, she had been working down near the beaches as a photo prop elephant, used in ceremonies and weddings as well as tourist trekking, in her very early days she was a logging elephant. Her owners a family with young children, felt that she was getting too old and tired for work. She was very nervous elephant, needing a calming voice and constant reassurance; she was afraid to walk in the small stream and was very sensitive to the wind blowing through the trees. Slowly she started to venture further from her night enclosure before it all became too much. For approx. 8 weeks before her passing she had been having severe hip/pelvic troubles likely from a previous injury during her working days that had flared up. She had been receiving 24 hour support care in her final days. Just before the New Year she had collapsed, with the help of a backhoe we got her to her feet. She stood again for nearly a week, leaning on the enclosure poles to help hold her weight, but when she finally laid down to rest she found herself unable to get up. She was down for a dangerously long time, which caused great damage to her tissues and her right side legs become swollen after we were able to get her on her feet again. She required a lot of assistance after this time and spent another week on her feet receiving continued 24 hour support care and strong pain medication; she had a strong will to live.
On her final day she had been doing okay when sadly she stumbled on her sore swollen legs and tried to catch herself with her trunk, her front legs caved beneath her. It was heartbreaking to see her, trying so hard to pick herself up. Unfortunately, she could no longer pick herself up and decided she needed to lie down on her side. We called the backhoe in and tried to lift her. After 3 attempts it became clear that this time she couldn’t hold herself up at all anymore, her legs kept giving way. We laid her down comfortably to rest, she was receiving IV Fluids, pain relief and continued support care, in the hopes she may have strength to stand in the morning.
She passed away just after 11pm that night, Monday 15th January.
If Love could have saved her, she would have lived forever!