The Founder of the Park: Sangduen Chailert (Lek) was born in a small rural mountain village of Baan Lao. Situated some 60 km from Chiang Mai, provincial capital of the same named province. She was educated locally achieving a BA from Chiang Mai University. From humble beginnings, hard work and sheer determination has brought her to forefront of efforts in Asia to save the elephant.
We were there for Medo's first day of freedom - this elephant's story is incredibly sad but one of many, many horror stories we heard that day. Lek, the founder of this Park, has ruffled many feathers of the 'tourist elephant parks' by complaining about their training methods and also the cruel way in which they work their elephants into the ground. Animals are 'trained' by putting them in a cage for 3 days and nights, torturing them by piercing their skin with nails and hitting them between the eyes with a metal hook, depriving them of sleep...all in order to break their spirit.
Elephant tourist parks are a multi-million Baht business and her good works and comments in the national and international press caused a contract to be taken out on her life. In addition, a baby elephant that she had recently rescued was poisoned with cyanide and died in her arms. Another conservationist, a Belgian woman, who ran a smaller sanctuary down South recently died in suspicious circumstances. The authorities will not allow an autopsy or release her body to her family in Belgium.
We had absolutely no idea all this was going on in Thailand, and neither do alot of the general Thai population. However, any information that has gotten out has been swept under the rug due to the government's aversion to suffering 'a loss of face', a particulary bad thing in Thai's people's eyes. But the elephant population is being wiped out here...many elephants are purposefully blinding or crippled so that when they are used for begging in the streets of Bangkok tourists feel more sorry for them and so give more money. Some animals are given Speed/anphetamines in order to make them work 24 hours non-stop... I could go on and on... However, I'm doing what I promised the Park I'd do, spreading the word. If you travel to Thailand do visit Lek's park, don't go to the tourist parks, don't ride the elephants (as the seat on their backs puts unnatural and adverse pressure on their spines causing long term damage), don't give to people who are begging with elephants - DO learn about the Asian Elephant and support their cause...before they all die out.
The rescue of Medo
Late April 2006 during our Jumbo Express trip along Burma border , we found a female elephant working She was employed to carry logs along by the Burma border. This female elephant is named Medo. She is one of the hundreds who continue to work hauling logs in the jungle. She shares a terrible destiny with many others including an elephant named Giant. Poor working conditions caused serious health issues with Medo.
She was born in 1976 at a Karen tribal village. After training (at 6 years old) the owner traded her for a bull elephant. The new owner trained her to prepare for logging work and she started work at aged 8 years old. When she was 12 years old during logging she has the accident with a heavy log that broke her rear left ankle. The logging camp company canceled the contract with her owner because of her injuries. She was rested for one year, but her leg was never the same and she had become lame. The owner tried to take her for logging work from many camps but no one wanted her. Finally he had an idea.
Realizing that Medo can no longer work for him, he thought she could still make a baby for him. He chained her four legs to the tree and put a bull in full *musth by her as a breeding partner. The crazed bull elephant tried to kill her and he pushed his huge tusks into her side and forced her to the ground. She screaming for help, but no-one would come closed to the bull Medo lay down to the ground bleeding and crying in agony. She tried to stand up over and over again before collapsing. A cursory examination later found that Medo's back bone has become dislocated.
She was sick with the sustained injuries for many years but still had a strong will to survive. She pulled through but became handicaped. No one will excpected her back at logging camps again. No one want to see her around their business because this day she was so shabby looking and they thought it would make their business look bad if they have her around.
The owner separated Medo from her herd but still forced her to work to pulling logs at a village .She stay working alone for 15 years old and had no contact with other elephants during this time.
We first saw Medo found in February and we couldn't believe that they still used her to work. But, when we looked into her eyes, we found that she is willing to live.
The park wrote to many friend and supporters. Immediately Bert from Serengeti Foundation USA got back to us and gave us the urgent help we needed in order to rescue her. It took many long hours and a tiresome journey for her to reach the park. We could now give her a home where she could rest and enjoy the company of other elephants. The first contact for over 15 years
She received a warm welcome from the herd and quickly became a member of Mae Thor Kor's family . She become a buddy of Malai thong (the tripod elephant who has one leg injured from landmine). Today she has a new family and the end of a loneliness and isolation for more than 15 years. Medo is under the care of Monkol our Karen Mahout and Lisa the girl mahout from UK.
*musth - a condition that bull elephants periodically suffer from. During this time they become erratic and can kill anything close to them. This includes previous elephant friends and humans.
See the website for more stories...
A wonderful day and really magic to see elephants in a natural setting being protected. We fed them and some washed them in the river (Paul!) and just watched them being them. We were shown a National Geographic programme which explained some of what was going on in Thailand. It was incredibly sad.