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Two Elephants on Two Thai Streets

August 06, 2016

Recently two friends in Thailand posted on Facebook separate elephant images on streets in Thailand on the same day. Ten years ago, a primary focus of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation was to remove elephants from the streets of major cities in Thailand and to place them and their mahout families in a natural habitat in the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar come together. In recent times, the need for this endeavor has diminished due to stricter enforcement by the Thai authorities to keep elephants off the streets and a federal government subsidy which provides a measure of support to the mahout elephant owners to return to their home villages. There was a vast difference in the respective conditions and environments of where the two elephants were located on that given day.

The first image was posted by Josh Plotnik, a leading animal psychologist and behavioral scientist of elephants. Josh founded and directs Think Elephants International.

Josh was greatly surprised to see an elephant walking the streets of Samut Prakan, a highly populated district just south of Bangkok. Further, he estimated the elephant to be two years old though in reasonably good health. However, two things are wrong with this picture. First, any elephant living and begging on the streets of an urban congested area is in a horrible, unnatural environment and second, you may recall from earlier blogs that immature elephants will nurse up until the time they are three years old.

Now the second series of elephant images were posted by Khun SomMai who resides in Moo Baan Chang and is well known by the author. First of all, as you likely know by now, Moo Baan Chang is the village supported by The Elephant Story and home to 200 elephants.

Khun SomMai is walking an elderly tusker down a road in Moo Baan Chang as part of a wedding procession with a Buddhist monk and the prospective groom on the back. Despite a multitude of family and friends joining in the procession, the elephant snacks along the way whenever he finds something appealing.

The procession terminates at the village temple in order for the wedding to proceed.

There are a number of good things about these last two images. First of all, they occur in a natural environment of rice paddy that has been unchanged for centuries. Second, it is a respected activity for an elephant that is revered in the Buddhist faith. Lastly, it symbolizes the beginning of a new marriage adding significant reverence and good blessings.

Between the two options shown, there is no question which is closer to a more wholesome, useful lifestyle for the elephants and their owners. The Elephant Story and The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation are trying to improve the lives of both the villagers and the elephants in Moo Baan Chang through education coupled with veterinarian programs for the elephants.

Before I close, I would like to share a bit of advice that Khun SomMai gave me a couple of years ago.

Khun SomMai is on the far left next to Khun Seng of The Elephant Story elephant polo team. The village elder mahouts are on either side of me. Most of the competition of the 2014 King's Cup was played in penalty shootouts due to monsoon rains. However, as you are all alone in front of everyone with one shot at the ball, they can be quite nerve wracking.

As I was about to shoot, Khun SomMai said in Thai, have a cool heart and the ball has already entered the goal. In Thai, he expressed it using only four words which is the opposite of the Japanese in the Bill Murray movie, Lost in Translation. In most everything we do in life, Khun SomMai's advice has applicability. His wisdom at such a young age suggests he will ultimately become one of the village elders, something I am sure he has never thought about.

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