Elephant Nature Park – The House Lek Built

elie-scrumWhen my husband Dave and I decided to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park Elephant Nature Park (ENP)- a sanctuary for elephants in Northern Thailand, we wanted to support the work of rescuing abused and misused elephants who are rescued from elephant riding camps, street begging, circuses and the logging trade.

Volunteering for 7 days with room and board would give us the experience of a working holiday and the proximity to being near elephants in as close to their natural state as a domesticated or broken elephant could be.

We had heard of Changduen “Lek” Chailert the founder and the driving force behind ENP through friends and social media. I was thrilled to find out that she would be giving a presentation on our second night there. When she walked in I was surprised at how tiny she was. This small, powerful woman, wore a graphic t-shirt that read “Ivory is Murder”.

The message on the t-shirt didn’t mince words and neither did she.

“What you’re going to hear and see tonight is going to make you sad.” she said. “It will make you cry. But to be the voice of the elephant you must understand their lives and their troubles”

For the next hour and half she did a presentation that I’m sure she has done a million times. People say passion is the greatest driver of change, the creator of outstanding achievements over time. And the woman whom I believe is building a quiet revolution in Thailand’s elephant tourism industry, delivered a talk that came straight from the epi-centre of heartbreak with an equal amount of determination to do something about it.

She tells us the history of elephants in Thailand – how their labour, their servitude built the country. She unflinchingly shows us the ‘phajaan’ the process of ‘breaking elephants, a horrifying multi-day starvation, and abuse of baby elephants intended to break their will to prepare them for a life of servitude. I sat in the back and listened to their screams, their cries, the footage of elephants buckling in pain as they’re released, and hit and beaten again and again.

She shows us images of elephants working in logging camps, carrying impossibly heavy lumber, dragging them up steep inclines, their faces etched in pain, fatique and defeat. She shows us the trials of street elephants, babies taken from their mothers who live under bridges, and are fed amphetamines and junk, as they’re trotted out in front of ignorant adoring tourists.

It occurred to me that if tourists could stomach the presentation we were shown, there is little doubt that anyone would be eager to participate in a tourist economy based on this kind of systemic and horrific abuse.

Residents of ENP

On the walls of the covered but open walled lunch area there are pictures and stories of the elephant residents at ENP. There are now 72 elephants living here.

Here are the stories of two of its residents:

Medo

Medo was born in 1980 and rescued in July 2006.S he is a survivor of the illegal logging industry where her right ankle was broken but never allowed to heal. She was placed in a forced breeding program where the large bull injured and attacked her. Despite never receiving medical treatment for a broken knee joint and a dislocated hip, Medo manages to get around quite well at the park. Her best friend is  Mae Lanna.

Mae Lanna was born around 1980 and was rescued from street begging in February 2007. She has also worked in logging. She is 60% blind most likely from a slingshot when working in logging. When she was working as a street beggar, a monk became concerned about her and she was rescued and brought to ENP.

More than just elephants – The House the Lek Built

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On 250 acres of land donated from a wealthy American family, ENP has grown to include 72 elephants, 500 rescue dogs, Cat Kingdom cat rescue, 50 water buffalo including Violet a baby water buffalo who was rescued and raised by people and considers herself human, birds, monkeys, wild boar, a single pig and I suspect many others I didn’t see.

We had no idea all these animals were being rescued here when we first arrived.  It feels like something much bigger than a grand gesture of generosity towards all living things. It is the way Lek believes the world needs to work – the true way of moving forward on this planet together.

The vegan menu that is served three times a day during our stay, underpins this philosophy. Animals don’t need to get hurt to serve our needs. And the food is delicious by the way. I actually gained weight during our stay.

A quiet revolution can also be an economic driver

ENP is a bustling hive of activity. From the moment we arrived it felt like we were on a sanctuary swat team. There are minivans delivering people, trucks delivering food and goods, and a busy kitchen preparing food, beds to be cleaned, laundry, animals to be tended to, mahouts tending to elephants. Without having the daily receipts in front of me, I sense that this experiment in kindness is proving to be a successful business model.

Spreading the love

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In addition to running ENP, Lek works with local trekking camps to change their business from riding elephants to being with elephants. In return they have access to her vets and she promotes them through ENP. To date 15 have moved towards non-riding eco models.

Elephant Haven

We weren’t done when we left ENP so we went back to the Save the Elephant Foundation office in Chiangmai (where we met many friendly dogs, including one naughty little pug who lovingly dined on my skirt) and asked Ms. Patty what next. She pointed us to the direction of Elephant Haven, quickly helped us make the plans and off we went.

We spent 4 days at Elephant Haven  in Kanchanaburi about 1.5 hours ourtside of Bangkok. With only 12 elephants I imagine it is closer to what ENP was just a few short years ago.

We woke up to elephants outside our cabin window and spent the days making elephant food, cutting sugar cane, and wandering in the woods with elephants  sometimes only a few  even inches away from us.

sugarcane

While it’s still many steps behind ENP it is encouraging to see and you can only hope that the word will grow like wildfire amongst tourists to support elephants in a more respectful and humane way.

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 The future of Asian elephants

Watching the elephants slowly amble their way through the landscape at ENP, stopping to scratch, moving with their families to fields in green pastures, I feel anxious for their future.

Asian elephants are an endangered species and part of the miasma of wildlife rapidly vanishing from our planet.

At the start of the 20th century there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand alone and today there are between 3,000 to 4,000 wild Asian elephants with a global population of fewer than 30,000. After the logging trade was closed in 1989 Thailand has a population of 2,700 domesticated elephants.

Conservationists also worry for the long-term outcome of these magnificent animals. The jungle, their natural home, is being taken away for land use. Population demands, deforestation and demand for ivory are their greatest threat.

As I walked with them in the jungle and watched them from afar, I marveled at how much these giant herbivores eat huge quantities of fruits and vegetables every day.

I witnessed first- hand their need to wander distances. I feel anxiety that these amazing creatures, these giants are meant for another world, another time.

But as I watch the hustle and bustle of trucks bringing in food, supplies, and the minivans bringing in hundreds of people every day, I feel a tiny ray of hope for the domesticated elephant anyway. This looks like economic development to me. Perhaps Thailand can become the leader in ethical tourism for one of its most revered and cherished symbols.

There’s a woman out there called Lek Chailert and she has built a sanctuary, a house of rescue, a revolutionary business model, a new way of helping elephants survive.

She has the magnificent heart of someone who does the tough work of rescue. Not just a part of it. All of it. I feel lifted by this thought and hope that I can be a small part of this revolution she is creating.

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Poem of the Week:A Good Day by Kait Rokowski via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

 

This poem is beautiful, heartbreaking, insightful, amazing.

 

A Good Day
     – Kait Rokowski

Yesterday, I spent 60 dollars on groceries,
took the bus home,
carried both bags with two good arms back to my studio apartment
and cooked myself dinner.
You and I may have different definitions of a good day.
This week, I paid my rent and my credit card bill,
worked 60 hours between my two jobs,
only saw the sun on my cigarette breaks
and slept like a rock.
Flossed in the morning,
locked my door,
and remembered to buy eggs.
My mother is proud of me.
It is not the kind of pride she brags about at the golf course.
She doesn’t combat topics like, ”My daughter got into Yale”
with, ”Oh yeah, my daughter remembered to buy eggs”
But she is proud.
See, she remembers what came before this.
The weeks where I forgot how to use my muscles,
how I would stay as silent as a thick fog for weeks.
She thought each phone call from an unknown number was the notice of my suicide.
These were the bad days.
My life was a gift that I wanted to return.
My head was a house of leaking faucets and burnt-out lightbulbs.
Depression, is a good lover.
So attentive; has this innate way of making everything about you.
And it is easy to forget that your bedroom is not the world,
That the dark shadows your pain casts is not mood-lighting.
It is easier to stay in this abusive relationship than fix the problems it has created.
Today, I slept in until 10,
cleaned every dish I own,
fought with the bank,
took care of paperwork.
You and I might have different definitions of adulthood.
I don’t work for salary, I didn’t graduate from college,
but I don’t speak for others anymore,
and I don’t regret anything I can’t genuinely apologize for.
And my mother is proud of me.
I burned down a house of depression,
I painted over murals of greyscale,
and it was hard to rewrite my life into one I wanted to live
But today, I want to live.
I didn’t salivate over sharp knives,
or envy the boy who tossed himself off the Brooklyn bridge.
I just cleaned my bathroom,
did the laundry,
called my brother.
Told him, “it was a good day.”

 

For more information on Kait Rokowski, please click here.

 

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Book Review: Far to Go by Alison Pick

In another life I was the publicist for Alison Pick when I was working in publishing and she was just starting out as a poet. She is a very skilled, beautiful writer. But in this book, a novel, she turns to an historic topic – the Kinder Transport in which close to 10,000 children were rescued from Germany, Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Far To G takes place in Czechoslovakia months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War and follows the life of the Bauer’s, a well-to-do Jewish family, as the Germans move in and occupy their border town.

It’s narrated by Marta the nanny and by AnnaLiese a Kinder Transport researcher whose own life is inextricably linked to the story.

This novel, as  you can imagine, doesn’t end well and Pick doesn’t try and hide this fact. But what she does well is detail the shifts in thinking and realizations that bring about the family’s ultimate demise. How the trusted right hand man to Pavel Bauer ultimately betrays his friend for greed, racism and hatred. How Marta, so real, so warm and loving, so imperfect and human, misses the opportunity to save herself and the family.

The Bauers, disbelieving and not fully understanding the very real dangers that lay before them, miss opportunity after opportunity to escape safely. This is a story I hear again and again as I read through accounts of people and families during this period of time. As people who were Jewish in name only, Pavel Bauer felt a false sense of protection which was ultimately betrayed by the nauseating racial policies of the Nazi regime and all of those complicit in its implementation.

The Bauer’s learned far too late, that no-one was safe. But they did manage to get their son Pepic  out by Kinder Transport. Hooray you want to say but in reality a mind-numpingly heartbreaking choice.Reading even a fictionalized version of this painful event makes it all so real.

Today, as the world spirals toward racial and religious division, threats of evicting entire ethnic groups, building walls, taking away women’s rights, refusal to acknowledge and help refugees , I think about my friend Inge who is a survivor of the Kinder Transport. I remember how she described the last time she saw her parents, how she cries even now, today when she talks about no longer being able to go to school in Germany, how she found out her parents were murdered. Inch by inch this happened to her and millions of others. Inch by inch, we can never give in to this.

Never doubt that historic fiction isn’t important. It is and always will be.

 

 

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Poem of the Week: The Leash by Ada Limon via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

This poem takes my breath away.

The Leash

– Ada Limon

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what’s
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don’t die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

A big thanks to Alison McGhee for finding and sharing these treasures.
For more information on Ada Limon, please click here.

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The Girl in the Blue Coat – Book Review

3c694dd86944bafdbfae6753584e2ef8Continuing along in the vein of reading World War 2 books, I picked up this YA novel The Girl in the Blue Coat by  Monica Hesse which takes place in Amsterdam during the war.

My mother grew up in the Hague during the same time and was approximately the same age as Hanneke, the main character in the book. She has told me many stories about growing up in occupied Holland but it was hard to get a complete picture .I wanted to imagine the smells, the feeling, understand and feel what life was really like.

From that perspective I really enjoyed the book because of course, as you follow Hanneke on her journey you are introduced to the mechanics and the horrible impact of occupation by the Germans.

Hanneke’s story, however is not my mother’s story. But it’s an interesting, page turning tale of a young woman (18) who loses her boyfriend on the Dutch front. Her grief and her family’s circumstances drive her to buy and sell on the black market. While making a delivery to a client the client asks her to help her find a young Jewish girl she had been hiding but who had disappeared.

This story takes you right into the work of the dutch resistance and to the disappearance of Dutch jews , over a 100,000 of  whom were rounded up and sent to  their deaths in German camps.

Hanneke herself has to make choices about the person she wants to be and the risks she’s willing to take. What the author presents is the fabric of history – a painful tableau of complicity, cowardice, the crime of doing nothing as well as enormous courage and bravery. This period of time is still so close we can almost touch it. These acts of historic atrocity are always  just around the corner. We can see that in our own existing political climate.

It was a good story, well told and should be read by all generations for the simple fact that history should never repeat itself.

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Poem of the Week:Dear One Absent This Long While by Lisa Holstein via Poetry Mistress Alison McGhee

Dear One Absent This Long While
– Lisa Olstein

It has been so wet stones glaze in moss;
everything blooms coldly.

I expect you. I thought one night it was you
at the base of the drive, you at the foot of the stairs

you in a shiver of light, but each time
leaves in wind revealed themselves,

the retreating shadow of a fox, daybreak.
We expect you, cat and I, bluebirds and I, the stove.

In May we dreamed of wreaths burning on bonfires
over which young men and women leapt.

June efforts quietly.
I’ve planted vegetables along each garden wall

so even if spring continues to disappoint
we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain.

I have new gloves and a new hoe.
I practice eulogies. He was a hawk

with white feathered legs. She had the quiet ribs
of a salamander crossing the old pony post road.

Yours is the name the leaves chatter
at the edge of the unrabbited woods.

For more information on Lisa Olstein, please click here.

Thanks to Alison for finding these beautiful poems and sharing them with the world.

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Canada Refuses an Ivory Ban Motion to Protect Endangered Elephants

Vancouver – Global March for Elephants and Rhinos Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Canada Refuses an Ivory Ban Motion to Protect Endangered Elephants

Prior to the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

Vancouver Joins the Global March with a Mardi Gras for Elephants and Rhino

Vancouver, BC, September 15, 2016 – Canada was one of only four countries that objected to motion by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last weekend. The motion called for every country to ban their internal trade of ivory and would help protect elephants facing extinction due to rampant poaching. The ban is enthusiastically supported by 145 cities participating in the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos on September 24. Well over 50,000 people are expected to march in 38 countries, to coincide with the first day of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conference

The feud between Canada, South Africa, Namibia and Japan, versus the other 213 government agencies at the World Conservation Congress, caused walkouts and threats of cancelled membership. Canada argued that the ivory ban would affect the hunting of walrus and narwhal by the Inuit in Canada’s Arctic. The two government agencies that abstained were the Canada Parks Agency and Canadian Museum of Nature.

An African elephant is killed every 15 minutes and a rhino is poached every 8 hours, sometimes enduring days of pain before death. There are fewer than 400,000 elephants and 18,000 rhinos left in the wild in Africa. At this rate, it is estimated that both species face extinction in the wild in as soon as 10 years.

While the IUCN motion is not legally binding, it is hoped that it will encourage a commitment to both an international and domestic ban of ivory trade at the upcoming conference in Johannesburg. John Scanlon, secretary-general of CITES has said the conference “is without doubt one of the most critical meetings of CITES in its 43-year history.”

Canada is a signatory to CITES but is yet to publicly state the level of protection it intends to afford elephants, when it votes at the conference. Given the significance of this year’s conference, the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos is poised to be the world’s largest demonstration to save animals. Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Sudbury, London, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax will all take part.

Elephanatics, an elephant conservation non-profit group in Vancouver, is hosting the city’s third year of participation in the Global March with a Mardi Gras for Elephants and Rhinos. The family-friendly celebration of these iconic animals facing a tenuous future, is free to attend at Creekside Park beside Science World on Saturday, September 24 from 12pm – 2pm.

Activities will be free or by-donation and will cater to all ages. Attendees can also learn how easy it is to help save the few elephants and rhinos that remain. Live music, Mardi Gras necklaces, elephant mask-making, wildlife face painting, henna tattoos, a pro-animal graffiti wall, and an elephant costume competition (for humans and dogs!) will be available. A professional photographer will give guests a photo of themselves beside a 2-metre high elephant or rhino image. Elephanatics also promise the biggest “trunk sale” of pachyderm-themed jewelry, homewares and clothing. All donations benefit the Elephant Crisis Fund – an anti-poaching initiative from Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network.

“Can you imagine your children not ever being able to see a live elephant in the wild? The Mardi Gras is a unique opportunity to tell Canada’s CITES delegates to stand with the rest of the world and stop the poaching. Canadians don’t want a world without elephants, but we have to speak up at this event or it might be too late. Elephants don’t forget – so let’s not forget elephants,” explained Fran Duthie, Co-Founder, Education Director and Volunteer at Elephanatics.

Patricia Sims, an award-winning documentary filmmaker (When Elephants Were Young) will explain how an ivory sale price in China of CAD$1,500 per kilogram attracts international terrorist groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Sims co-founded World Elephant Day (August 12). Now in its fifth year, the initiative partners with 100 elephant conservation organizations worldwide.

Film and television actor, Paul Blackthorne (“Quentin Lance” in Vancouver-filmed Arrow), will also be a guest speaker. “It is more important than ever to support awareness raising efforts which pressure governments to implement and enforce wildlife crime laws. We simply can’t be the generation responsible for the extinction of elephants and rhino,” says Blackthorne.

Also joining the speaker’s panel is NDP MLA Mike Farnworth who has tabled a private member’s bill (M-234) banning the sale of ivory and rhino horn. This bill closes a loophole that permits trade in ivory and rhino horn in British Columbia.

To tell CITES delegates to provide elephants with the highest level of protection, a petition can be signed at http://www.elephanatics.org/blog. To take part in history’s largest and most powerful global wildlife event, join the Mardi Gras for Elephants and Rhinos and demand an end to poaching on Saturday September 24 beside Science World.

About Elephanatics

Elephanatics is a non-profit organization founded in May 2013 in Vancouver. It is run exclusively by volunteers who aim to help the long-term survival of African and Asian elephants through conservation, education and action. Elephanatics first introduced Vancouver to the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos in October 2014 and has hosted the annual free event ever since. www.elephanatics.org

About Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos is a registered, non-profit organization in the United States. It is a grassroots, worldwide movement demanding an end to ivory and rhino horn trade. The first march was in 2013. www.march4elephantsandrhinos.org

For more information or to book media interviews –

Contact: Tessa Vanderkop

Director of Community Engagement

Elephanatics

elephanaticsinfo@gmail.com

604-789-8886

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