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  • Writer's pictureCassie Stockamp

Gentle Giants…

So we just had a week of everything elephants…! AMAZING… Feeding elephants, making elephant food, harvesting food (yes, 1 ton of banana stalks) walking elephants, washing elephants, removing plants from elephant ponds (with the snakes that swam away after we all got out 😳) and picking up BIG piles of elephant doo doooooo… lol!! It was a joy feeding these girls banana balls; feeling the breeze from the swish of their huge ears and watching the proboscis of their nose reach out smelling for the gooey ball full of bananas and grass pellets, and then watching it curl its trunk around the ball gently taking it out of my hand.

Lonny and I, along with 50+ volunteers from around the world, (yup, new friends!!) came to this sanctuary to learn and be with the elephants and other wildlife in a safe and helpful way. The elephants at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand ( are no longer chained, given ample food, water, veterinary care and large open natural spaces to live out the balance of their lives.

And I must admit, it was pretty hard work in the hot Thai sun starting at 6:30am every morning, but the animals have a feeding routine that keeps them healthy…

Walking around the sanctuary was better done at a slow pace. We got to walk past the marmots (and many other species) as they played tag and heard the splashes as they jumped in and out of the the small pools chattering like children. The small black Malaysian Sun bears strolled around in a slow methodical pace looking for food. One day I walked past the veterinary clinic located next to the food prep area for the wildlife animals. The open air structure was full of people bustling around cutting and preparing meals for the 200+ animals that have found either a permanent or a temporary home before being released back into the wild. Off in this distance I heard the distinctive slide whistle like call of the gibbons which wafted across the water from the islands that house them and keep them contained.

This place is remarkable. It lacks creature comforts for the volunteers and there are so many things that could be improved upon, but this wildlife sanctuary is paid for by the volunteer fee and donations. The priorities are the animals…

And the not so pleasant part of this stay (besides the rather primitive living conditions) was learning about the way in which elephants are broken in order to be “tamed.” Baby elephants are separated from their mothers, bound by chains with food and water kept just out of reach. Day after day they bellow, are beaten and pull on the chains until they are weakened to the point of dropping to their knees. They emit a certain cry that indicates that their spirit has been broken (this is called the “training crush”)  and only until this has happened will the mahout sweep in, unlock the chains and bring them food and water. The elephants are forever emotionally tied to these men…

EVERY ELEPHANT IN CAPTIVITY has been broken in this way whether they are being used as props for tourist photos, used in trecking, giving tourists rides or used for agricultural purposes. Often the ongoing care of these large creatures continues with much cruelty. Only until the demand for these activities lessons coupled with protective governmental policies will these practices will be eliminated.

Ping is the elephant in the video and she had been in captivity for over 30 years. She was rescued over 7 years ago and brought to this sanctuary to live out the rest of her life in peace. However, she suffers from PTSD and swings her head and foot still trying to break free from the imaginary chains holding her down….

I have learned so much about these amazing creatures and vow to NEVER have my picture taken with an elephant in a touristy activity or ride an elephant. My hope in sharing this info is that you too will never participate in such activities which unwittingly perpetuates such unnecessary cruelty.

My therapist taught me , “We do better, once we know better…. “ Whew.

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