Thailand is the country where Linda first landed in her quest to see Asian elephants on their home turf. Over the years, many good relationships and programs have offered the opportunity for AES to collaborate and support efforts benefiting both Asian elephants and the people who care for and about them.
Chiang Mai, one of the northern Thailand tourist destinations, is a good base on visits. Long-time friend, Julia Ferdinand, domiciled here, is always good logistics support and the all important ‘wheels’. So, too, this trip.
Our first stop is a long drive for a brief, but very good visit, to catch up with John Roberts at The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) base at the Anantara Resort, near the Golden Triangle. Through GTAEF, John offers an excellent and flexible elephant experience opportunity for tourists, while also always alert for programs and efforts to help improve captive elephant care where needed, as well as responding to requests for funding for educational, rescue, and other worthwhile efforts. AES has collaborated with GTAEF on a few occasions and looks forward to doing more together in the future.
The following day we visit the University of Chiang Mai’s Veterinary School. Linda is fortunate to know a few of the staff from our conferences and workshops, and she knows the effort they are making toward advances in elephant health care but had never before visited. After a very good meeting with Drs. Chatchote Thitaram and Chaleamchat Somgird, Dr. Khajohnpat Boonpraseet (“Dr. Yeaw”) takes Linda to Patara Elephant Farm. Linda visited there 10+ years ago when Patara had 4 or 5 well-cared for elephants and great sounding plans. They almost sounded impossible! But, 2018, and Theerapat (“Pat”) Trungprekan has more than delivered on this promise.
Now 57 elephants strong, with three calves born last year and five expected births this year, Patara is helping to stabilize the Thai elephant population. At the same time, a great tourist opportunity is offered. Staff is kind and friendly and both know and respect the animals under their care. Linda saw a comment on a tourist industry website that said, “If your trip to Thailand includes one day in Chiang Mai, spend it here. If not, add a day and spend it here,” and thinks that is some pretty good advice!
The next day, Linda rode along as Dr. Yeaw visited several elephant camps to treat elephants; mostly he is drawing blood to examine the cycling of selected females. First stop is Maetaman Camp. Over the years, Linda has been here many times. At present, they have 60+ elephants, some owned by camp owner, some are owned by others and brought here to work. Dr. Yeaw does 11 blood draws, all to check the cycles of these breeding-age females. The work goes smoothly with all but one elephant waiting her turn quietly and all cooperating like real pros. The one exception squeaked when she felt the needle but otherwise was a good girl. Maybe she’s new to the program! All elephants seen were between their late teens and into their 40s.
Next, we visit Rimtan Elephant Camp, a small camp with just a few elephants and did one blood draw.
A bit farther we stopped at Elephant Carer Home: no draws, no elephants in sight. Just a visit to ‘check in’ and be sure all is good. Then a visit to Elephant Rescue Home where we see 5 elephants: 2 adults and 3 juveniles. Give a tetanus inoculation to one elephant and looked at an inflamed eye on another.
Last stop is Baanchang Elephant Park. Met the woman owner to treat a female elephant who is bossy and a fighter but picked the wrong gal for her last battle, and besides lots of skinned up places, has a horribly swollen front leg Dr. Yeaw is treating. They have 54 elephants there and the facilities are quite new, well laid out, decently designed, and look like good materials and construction. And, these elephants get preventative medicine and have veterinarians on the premise.
No visit to Chiang Mai would be complete without a day trip to Lampang to visit with Richard Lair. An American who has been working in Thailand for more decades than we care to admit at this point, he is a true authority on not only the Asian elephant in Thailand and other Asian countries, but also the Thai history, culture, and language. We are proud he is an AES adviser.
The last day in Chiang Mai concluded with Dr. Yeaw and Pat, owner of Patera, and Linda at dinner. It was an excellent meeting and Linda agreed to help the newly forming Thailand Elephant Alliance (the owners of working elephants) which is being set up to both improve camps where needed and to educate the public on good elephant husbandry as well as the history and culture of Thai elephants and their owners/mahouts. Not sure how she/AES can be of assistance, but we are eager to help where possible.
After six days based in Chiang Mai, a last visit to Ayutthaya and the Elephantstay program at the Royal Kraal. Linda always has a horrible time getting tuk-tuk drivers to get her to the right destination. Finally, Ewa and Michelle explain to her it’s her pronunciation – comes out not meaning anything to the driver (who evidently isn’t good at 20 Questions, but sure tries!). It was a short visit, but a good time watching the bulls delivering fodder to the ‘elderly ladies’ in the Elephantstay program and the antics of two young calves.
Personal note from Linda: I always return from any trip to Asia more convinced than ever that Asian Elephant Support has it right. Concentrating our funding in Asia is without a doubt the best investment we – and our donors – can make. Lots of challenges ahead to get these magnificent animals into the next century, but if we look at ‘challenges’ as opportunities for us to put our commitment and resources toward – and with the support and encouragement of you, our donors and friends – we are confident we can be an important contributor to this effort. Thank YOU – for helping us help elephants.
In July we will commence a campaign to provide The Center for Excellence in Elephant Research and Education a second vehicle. Stay tuned!