Thailand Day 2- The Dark Side of Elephant Tourism

Guest post by elephant ambassador Leanne Fogarty currently traveling in Thailand.

Day 2 – Bangkok

The bus/catamaran to Koh Tao leaves at 6am so given my midnight arrival last night I decide to get a decent sleep and

spend one day in Bangkok. Two years ago I volunteered at ENP and became an Elephant Ambassador. That means we

tell people the dark side of elephant tourism that most visitors have no idea about. At ENP we learnt how tourism

elephants are not domesticated, but tortured into submission. They are plucked from the wild between 2 – 4 years of

age, still dependant on their mother’s milk. The baby’s mother and aunties were most likely slaughtered in the capture

as they tried valiantly to protect their precious infant. The baby is then placed in a tight wooden contraption, only just

big enough for itself, but not large enough for it to turn around. Over the next 3 – 10 days, depending on how strong

willed the elephant is, it is beaten with sticks, stabbed with bull hooks, starved, dehydrated, deprived of sleep and

screamed at. The “phajaan”, literally the “breaking” (of its wild spirit) is a centuries old practice in many countries with


An ele never forgets this trauma, and years later, just the sight of the bull hook is enough to make it obey, even to the

point of exhaustion, severe pain and mental anguish. An Ele Ambassador educates people about the cruelty and

isolation eles suffer, just so we can cross off one of our bucket list items. I say “we” because I too rode and elephant

before I knew what was involved. Ambassadors also provide a list of places in 5 Asian countries where you can have a

non-riding, positive elephant experience. Feeding and swimming with a happy, healthy elephant is far more exciting

than a jerky, one-hour ride where you can only just see the back of its scarred head.

Part of the “Phajaan” process involves hitting the elephant with long sticks that have sharp nails on the end.


Just one part of the horrific “Phajaan” process involves hitting the elephant’s sensitive areas (like its face and trunk) with long sticks that have sharp nails on the end. Source: unknown.

List of elephant sanctuaries by country.

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Guest post – Elephant Tourism: Travels in Thailand with Leanne Fogarty

The following guest posts are written by Leanne Fogarty, an elephant ambassador and advocate as she travels through Thailand.

Day 1 – Arrival

Finally. Nineteen hours, 11,800 km and now I am in Bangkok. I have 2 weeks in Thailand. One week in beautiful Koh Tao (Turtle Island) and one week volunteering at an elephant freedom project in Surin. The Surin Project is run by the Save Elephant Foundation – better known for its Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai. The ENP cares for 42 injured, old,or formerly abused elephants from the logging and tourism industries. Volunteers stay for a week or more, working for the “chang” (elephants) instead of the other way around. The volunteer’s donations fund the huge costs of providing medical care, a healthy, varied diet and hundreds of acres for the eles to roam. In the wild elephants can walk 24km a day. There is no elephant riding at ENP. The volunteers plant food for the eles, harvest and cut up the food, pick up dung, wash and play with the eles in the river, and walk beside them. Basically the Park lets eles – finally – BE eles.

As soon as I retrieve my bag and head for the exit, 3 huge anti-ivory posters block my path. Impressive! So it IS true. Thailand is working on its contribution to the poaching crisis. Let’s hope it also becomes sensitive to the abuse of its elephants in the name of entertainment and the mighty tourist dollar.

The warning signs at Bangkok airport. Source: Leanne FogartyThailand airport

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Wildaid – elephant poaching outpaces birth rate – Please share widely

According to a new report, #elephant poaching levels in Africa continue to outpace elephant birth rates.
Elephants have strong family bonds and share with us many emotions, from grief to compassion and joy. We’re proud to collaborate with actress Li Bingbing to bring awareness to these profound similarities.

Li Bingbing PSA – ‘Hunted’ from WildAid on Vimeo.

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Minutiae #14 – Rice Paddies

We met in Tojo Park. She was sitting watching the ducks. I was sitting watching the ducks. We were on opposite sides of the pond. We eyed each other. “I will not let this one get away”, I told myself. I had been alone in Takaoka, Japan for well over a month by myself and I had yet to meet another person who spoke English. I had seen a girl at the train station a few weeks earlier and I had run after her.  But she started to run and then she ran harder so I gave up. I had become a stalker without realizing it.


This duck watching girl didn’t want me to go away any more than I wanted her to so we walked towards each other some what hesitantly and greeted each other awkwardly. Then like two hysterical long lost friends we went off to the local western coffee shop where we listened to Elvis and Rock and Roll for the next two hours  and we drank endless coffees with free refills and ate donuts with elaborate iced western scenarios on top of them. I loved her instantly. Her name was Kerry Robinson and she came from Australia. Our first date was at the Californian restaurant where we ate Japanese style tacos and drank cheap Japanese wine. Two bottles. We got very drunk and they had to ask us to leave when the restaurant closed for the night.

We spent one entire year together living in this little town which had been sold to me as the Switzerland of the Orient. It was kind of. Not really. It had mountains. But Kerry and I spent a year there together. She was trying to figure life out and so was I. She had a boyfriend in Australia who called a suitcase a ”port” and it made her crazy. We talked endlessly and sometimes she worried that she would lose her Australian accent. I assured her she wouldn’t and then for the next few days she had this crazy Oz accent and I was like WHAT THE HELL.

Often we would go to her house which was luxurious compared to mine. By luxurious I mean it was furnished and had a kotatsu, a heated table which helped keep us warm while we drank wine and smoked our brains out. She had asthma and kept her inhaler nearby. I don’t think it mattered because we were both young and didn’t realize we could die yet or that life had any real consequences.  And we didn’t care so we just kept on smoking and then taking deep puffs on the inhaler and we’d make plans for our next outings.

We were very different but we loved each other madly and she made a big dent on my life. She made me crazy though. I never met anyone who could walk so slowly. No matter how hard I tried to walk with her inevitably it was just all much too slow for me and before too long we were walking single file until I got a bike and then we would double ride and then she got a bike and we would single file on the bikes.

Sometimes we would go walking in the rice paddies and she would trail behind with her black velvet hat sitting on her head of golden curls. She always wore makeup no matter what. She didn’t need it but she always wore it and sometimes in the dead heat of those humid summers her make up would run but she didn’t care. It’s the way it was. My hair would go boing, her make up would slide.

We always joked about the fact that neither of us had medical insurance. “Don’t worry”,  I would say to her smoking one of our millions of cigarettes. “I’ll throw you on the kotatsu and amputate your leg with the kitchen knife. Knock you out with the bottle of Japanese wine.”And then we would kill ourselves laughing because it was never anything else except her leg that we were going to amputate.

At one point we tried different things to become immersed in Japanese culture. I tried flower arranging which lasted two sessions and then I wanted to throw the vase across the room. Someone told us about a local karate teacher whose wife was willing to teach foreigners. So that’s what we did. We studied karate. And it was fun. We were both terrible but our teacher and her daughter ( a 12 year old black belt) were kind and patient with us. Then we decided we should learn Japanese so we started Japanese lessons. We found a teacher who would give us private lessons at her house.

Her house was a free standing modern house that was part of a new suburb that was built in an area surrounded by rice paddies. Kazuko our teacher was a wife and mother and  I guess she was also a part time teacher.  We went for lessons twice a week. We would ride our bikes there (single file) and park our bikes outside the house. The room where the lessons took place was upstairs and Kerry and I would sit in desks facing the wall where Kazuko would hold court teaching us katakana, then hiragana. We would go over dialogues and she would quizz us, encourage us, laugh with us but always gently guide us back to the important work at hand. There was a window in the classroom that faced the backyard and it was always open.  Although I’m sure Kerry and I went there in winter it seemed like it was always warm and bright in that room with the sweet smell of country air and rice paddies blowing gentle breezes our way. The curtain would lift and fall as the summer came and then went, with Kerry and I practicing and learning until we could manage respectable conversation. Kazuko was determined that we shine. And we did. And then we’d get back on our bikes, Kerry with her crazy hat and the two of us with our matching boots and off we ‘d go laughing the whole way back about how hard that damn language was and did you get how this worked – nope not at all – you. Nope.  But we knew the year was drawing to a close and every day felt more important than the last. And it’s a terrible feeling knowing that you have this short time together with someone and that this experience is going to end. Has to end. The richness of it all is related in some respect to it not being a forever

We said goodbye at the train station. Matching jeans, matching shoes. As nervous saying goodbye as our first hello. We promised to stay in touch. I would come to Australia for a year. She would come to Canada.  And we did stay in touch for awhile. A long while. She got a job with Quantas and flew and met me in Amsterdam. And then she came to Toronto. But my life was broken for awhile and I found it hard to maintain the joy of our year away when everything seemed wrong with my current life. And then I heard she had had a baby.  Gracie she had called her. And I had hoped that I could overcome the wrongness of my life to embrace the goodness in hers but at that time I couldn’t do it. So we lost touch. And I have no idea where she is. And I look for her all the time. But I think of that year away with her a lot. Of riding our bikes in the rice paddies, eating crazy mile high donuts with icing this big, of sitting getting drunk in California restaurants millions of miles away from home, of reckless cigarette smoking listening to Air Supply, of sitting in the classroom with the wind blowing the sweetest smell of spring into our lives. That was Kerry Robinson. A girl from Sydney Australia. Still my very dear friend wherever she is.

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The Dark Side of Animal Tourism in Thailand

I have been shocked by the number of people I know who have ridden elephants. I’m even more shocked that they have no of the dark side of animal tourism…those days need to be over. We know too much about so many animals, particularly elephants. The more we know, the less we will support tourism that is based on animal abuse…and hopefully put our money towards appreciating seeing animals in their natural habitat and supporting the communities who are an integral part of this.

Please read this and share:

You can also find a guide to elephant sanctuaries by country right here.


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Minutiae #13 Rascals and Angels – When your feet tell you to jump

If my hands and feet had characters, I would say my hands are the diplomats, the breakers of bread, the lovers of love, the do-gooders, my collaborators. My feet on the other hand are unpredictable rascals. Risk takers? Yes. The occasional mad dancers and the devils in my head? Absolutely. They are the ones that make me take mad flying leaps off cliffs.

As an entirely unpractical person it’s fair to say my feet, those devil may care vehicles of madness, frequently win the argument over the more practical hands and head. So when those feet tell me to jump, I jump.

DSC_0060_2The nature of the ‘flying leap’ isn’t an every day occurrence but it can be characterized by a disposition. For example, mail box keys aren’t for me, 1) I wouldn’t be able to find the key in any event, 2) if I could find the key, the mail would remain unopened possibly for years on end.

The thing about my feet though is this. They’ve taken me places. I have never regretted seemingly thoughtless responses to my heart. By that I mean – I never regret not planning, or not over thinking. For me over thinking leads me to inaction. And inaction leads me to never taking risks. And I realize I love the risk not for the risk itself but for what it brings. I love the feeling of unexplored and un-mapped territory – a place in my heart that is waiting to be etched by the newness of it all. I know now for certain that I have nothing to lose except the freshness of life.

My rascally feet brought me as a young girl to Vancouver – halfway across the country from my family; they helped me leave my first husband and move away to a foreign Asian country – the downside perhaps being that I barely knew where Japan was and I packed for tropical weather. They led me to interesting work experiences where I had no experience except the will to do it; it lead me to going on a date on Lavalife and meeting the love of my life; it lead me to a barn one day with a pocket full of money and coming home with a gorgeous sick little pup who changed my life; it led me to waking up one night and saying to Dave – I’m going to do something. I’m going to do something which launched my rage against a world that senselessly and mercilessly slaughters animals into something that echoes a battle cry against the growing horrors of injustice. A small committed group of people can change the world. I believe that. So what is next? Who knows I never know what is next. What is next is as unplanned as the vagaries of the heart. But I have my beautiful husband, adventurous feet and increasingly braver heart. I am open to the world.

So ‘thank you’ feet, you naughty rascals. I have no regrets. I can’t wait to find out what’s next.

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Poem of the Week: Twilight – by Dan Bellm via the lovely Alison McGhee

– Dan Bellm

After the men had
eaten, as always, very
fast, and gone—I thought

of them that way, my
father and brother—the men—
not counting myself

as of their kind—the
time became our own, for talks,
for confidences—

I was one of her,
though I could never be, a
deserter in an

open field between
two camps. Even my high school
said on its billboard,

Give us a boy, and
get back a man
, a wager
that allowed for no

exceptions, like an
article of war. Gay child
years away from that

lonely evening of
coming out to her at last,
of telling her what

she knew already
and had waited for, I’d sit
in the kitchen with

her after clearing
the meal away, our hands all
but touching, letting

a little peace fall
around us for the evening,
coffee steaming in

two cups, and try at
ways of being grown, with her
as witness, telling

the truth as I could—
which is how, one night, that room
became a minor,

unrecorded battleground
of the Vietnam

War. I think she knew
before it began how she’d
be left standing in

the middle with her
improvised white flag, mother,
peacemaker, when I

said I refused to
go; never mind how, I’d thought
her very presence,

her mysterious
calm, would neutralize any
opposing force, draft

board, father—it’s not,
we know, how that war came to
pass. For years I’d still

call her at that hour,
the work done and the darkness
coming on, even

all those years when Dad
was the one who’d come to the
phone first, and then not

speak to me. Twilight
times with her, when a secret
or what I thought was

one could fall away
beneath her patient regard,
though I would never

manage to heal her
hurts the way she tended mine—
those crossings-over

to evening when the
in-between of every kind
seemed possible, and

doubt came clear, because
she heard, and understood, and
did not turn away.

Big thanks to Alison for curating these poems.
​For more information on Dan Bellm, please click here:

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