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Ning Nong And The Thai Tsunami

July 17, 2016

Shortly after the "Boxing Day Tsunami" on December 26, 2004, the author happened to land in Bangkok's Don Mueang airport to a frenzy of aid workers, medical teams and rescue experts from all over the world that were landing and mobilizing at the airport to address the tragedy on the Thai Andaman Sea coast.

The tsunami was triggered by the Indian Plate being subducted by the Burma Plate creating an earthquake of a 9.1 to 9.3 magnitude deep in the Indian Ocean.  The series of tsunamis along the coasts bordering the Indian Ocean killed over 230,000 people in fourteen countries with waves up to 100 feet high.  Indonesia was the hardest hit followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

The initial phenomenon of a tsunami is a rapid and extraordinary withdrawal of water from the beach area as illustrated below on the Andaman Sea side of the Thai coast.

The water withdrawal is then followed by massive tidal waves like the one shown below coming in to Phuket.

It was here that we find the elephant, Ning Nong, and her rider, Amber Mason, of the UK.  Amber was eight years old at the time.  While many of the Thai people on the beach were picking up fish that been left behind by the sudden withdrawal of the sea, Ning Nong became agitated and started moving to higher land.  By all accounts, Ning Nong saved young Amber's life which transcends any scientific evidence that the elephant sensed the impending doom and can only be explained by animal instinct which is characteristic of elephants.

Michael Morpurgo, the children's author and creator of War Horse, was inspired by Ning Nong's and Amber's story to write Running Wild. He recalled reading the story in a newspaper at the time, saying it stuck in his mind as one bit of hope amid the destruction of the Boxing Day tsunami.

Running Wild was then adapted as a play which was performed in London's Regent Park in June of this year as told by a cast of children and puppet animals.  Although Miss Owen and Mr. Morpurgo had never met, they were united at a performance of the play.

There are many cases of the remarkable instinct and empathy demonstrated by elephants. To save a young girl's life is a most extraordinary one.

“The Elephant Village” translated into Thai is pronounced “Moo Baan Chang.”  Located in Ban Ta Klang, Surin Province, it is the home to over 200 domesticated elephants and over 500 resident Mahout (owners and drivers of the elephant) families.


Moo Baan Chang has particular significance for The Elephant Story due to our conservation efforts in the village where we have co-sponsored, along with The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF), English as a second language and money management skills. It is our hope that these efforts will allow the younger generation of the village more options for what they can become in their future and money management to make the village more self sustainable.
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