It was interesting watching a documentary on the Knowledge Channel about the illegal dealings and sale of elephant tusks. I was reminded of my experience in an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. The documentary was filmed in Africa. I got the shivers when I saw the burning of hundreds of tusks, representing millions of dollars (yes, millions!) when the population is starving and hundreds of elephants were killed for the precious ivory. I visited China just after 9/11 and couldn’t help but admire the art of ivory carving, the intricate patterns and the ‘balls within balls’, each one carved with incredible designs. How did they do it? Those carvers are true artists. I knew it was ‘verboten’ to take any ivory out of the country and the producers of the ivory were on the endangered species list: The elephants. One is not allowed to hunt them and kill them. So how do the artists get the ivory to do their craft, sell the items for hundreds of dollars to the specialty shops and these, in turn, offer them for thousands of dollars to an, apparently, international market? Very large specimens are priced at million dollars or more.
I am shaken to learn of the still ongoing killings. The tusks have become smaller since the elephants don’t live long enough to develop those earlier magnificent tusks. They are hunted, to this very day by illegal means. The hunters take the chance to get caught but the hope to get rich is stronger. The number of elephants worldwide is going down. If they were not protected in large areas and parks they would probably be a lost species already. And forever is forever.
My first personal encounter with elephants was in a ‘Sanctuary’ in Thailand. I watched them play soccer and cheered with the rest of the visitors when one got the ball across the field and it was kicked back by another. The elephants looked so very happy, ran back and forth like humans do and seemed to be smiling. I tried to snap photos and I think you’ll like this one.
Another incredible encounter was in the ‘Art Class’. Elephants were drawing pictures using their trunks. They looked at their teacher and chose colours as if they really knew what was needed. Did they, do they know? The combination of colours and designs were comparable to some of the modern human artists, some maybe even better. The paintings were about 30 by 40 inches and were sold for twenty US dollars and went like hot cakes. I was tempted to buy one too but figured it would be crushed in my luggage.
The most fun was when the elephants were told “it’s bathing time”. Boy, did they ever hurry and plunge into the stream running through the sanctuary! They helped each other with splashing and rinsing, they looked after the young just like human mothers after their kids.
There was also a lecture for us, the visitors. Sitting on crudely made rows of benches we learned that each animal drinks about 300 litres of water a day and needs tons of food. We learned that their memory is incomparable and life-long. No dementia. Once, not too long ago, the sanctuary had hired a new care giver. One of the elephants looked at him, recognized him as his previous owner, rushed towards him and before anyone could stop him, he trampled him to death. The elephant had been abused and mistreated by this man. Elephants never forget! And no, the elephant was not ‘put down’. He was part of the soccer team. At the end of the lecture the speaker asked for a volunteer to sit on the entwined trunks of two elephants. Nobody dared – I did! I felt a bit apprehensive – but looking into the elephants eyes, it seemed they ‘invited’ me to do it. They were behind a flimsy fence, trunks over towards me. One lifted me up and deposited me on their by then entwined trunks. Most of the other visitors snapped pictures, one also with my own camera.
The fitting end of our visit was a ten minute ride on a huge elephant through the jungle, down a hill side and then along the stream back to camp. Unforgettable!
When thinking of Thailand I think of food. I could live on their food. The spicy aroma is in the air. Another experience was an original ‘Thai Massage’. Would I have one again? No. It hurts. The fingers go deep – the therapists also ‘walk’ on you. Some men in our group liked it. Masochists! But then, the massage therapist was a light, beautiful young Thai girl.
One of the last evenings was spent wandering through a night market. I bought silk pyjamas for myself and an interesting tie for my son. The front of the tie was ‘let’s call it a traditional design’ but if the wearer moved it could happen that the tie moved as well and showed the backside, a beautiful nude girl, tastefully done. My son was required to wear a tie daily for his work. One of his co-workers saw the tie ‘move’ and asked “where the h… did you get that tie?” The true answer was “My mother bought it for me in Thailand.”
His friend was surprised but exclaimed, “I know that shop, it is right behind Sears in the Town Shopping Centre. But I have never seen a tie like that in ‘Tie Land’.