Armed with an arsenal of cautionary tales that range from human zoos to the horrors of frozen tiger cub corpses, Sue and I were equally (and rightfully) skeptical of embarking on an elephant experience. With much due diligence and research, we were both relieved to find ElephantsWorld, a non-profit elephant sanctuary in Kanchanaburi founded in 2008.
All the volunteers we spoke with praised the work done by ElephantsWorld and enjoyed the work they were doing—but one also warned that “when you see the new girl, you’ll know.” Later, we did see her. As I scrubbed a baby elephant—who like a Great Dane moonlighting as a lap dog flip-flopped in the lake, his crushing size unbeknownst to him—a mahout (elephant trainer) was guiding a timid lone “lady” to a more peaceful part of the waterhole.
“There she is,” said the volunteer, following my gaze.
She was unmistakeable. The skin draped off her hulking frame like an aged leather jacket on a coat hanger. “We’ll turn her around soon. She is already markedly better than she was. This is my third time here. The most gratifying thing is returning to see the elephants you’ve bonded with happy and healthy again.”
My heart sunk as I thought how this creature who weighs some three tonnes could seem as delicate as a piece of straw. But just then a particularly plump elephant strolled onto the shore—a testament to Elephant’s World’s good work, she wasn’t chubby or over fed. She was expecting.
Elephants are highly complex creatures. From a care standpoint, they devour resources. They have choosey sweet teeth—the phrase “champagne tastes on beer wages” comes to mind—and even more fickle stomachs. From a social standpoint, they are even more so. Adoptive mothers care for orphaned young, entire herds will perform burial rituals and mourn their dead, even coming back to the resting place of their deceased to grieve.
ElephantsWorld is always looking for both volunteers and donations. A noble cause, and a noble use of precious holidays. They say an elephant never forgets. At ElephantsWorld we learned how imperative it is that as travellers it’s our great responsibility to remember we are not the only creatures on this earth that feel.