About an elephant

It was just a matter of time before I’d find myself blogging about my favorite animal, the ‘elephant’ more specifically, the Asian (Thai) elephant. There is no doubt that elephants play an important role in Thai history and culture. Known to be nobly and faithfully, they served both kings and commoners in war and in commerce, therefore, they became symbols of both “power and peace”. I know Richard blogged about National Thai Elephant Day in March which I enjoyed reading.

However, it ‘seems’ that elephants have slowly been losing their stature over the years. Today, I want to share the story of ‘Pang Boonlong’ that was in the headlines at dailynews the other day.

(Pang Boonlong – AP dailynews.co.th)

Pang Boonlong (‘Pang’ because elephants are regarded highly), a female elephant of 3-4 years, still a baby at that, was being used by her mahout to beg for money from tourists and locals in Chiang Mai. She had been so tired and people kept telling them not to bother. Pang Boonlong became very tired, having eaten little, the mahout seemingly wanted to satisfy his own drinking habits. He had been riding her, possessing a steel bar and when he realised the police were after him, he started hitting poor Pang Boonlong over the head many times in order to get her moving. The baby elephant was in shock after he did this to her and starting rummaging around, crashing into two cars before shaking him off of her. 30 police had arrived but none were able to catch one drunken man as he got away while everyone was still shocked over a loose elephant. When the vet had gotten closer, they realised what a huge gash she had on her head, blood trickling down on her which made her cry. Yes, cry. Elephants cry. Pang Boonlong was in much pain. I think the police must still be searching for her tormentor.

When my mother had read and told me about this, I felt so sad and teary-eyed asking “Why? Why would someone be that cruel?” I’ve read many other stories about abuse in regards to elephants [and other creatures] which is very saddening. There were opinions on Pang Boonlong’s story and one man had commented that there are some mahouts that take their elephants into the city to sell sugar canes for the elephants to eat. People that buy the sugar canes will see that the mahout gives the cane to the elephant to eat but as soon as they turn their back, the mahout would hit the elephant on the head so it would spit the cane back out and re-sell it. He said to let more people know about this kind of cruelty and that if people were to give money, to tell the mahout directly that this money is FOR the elephant only.

Although, I can neither confirm nor deny this story, I wouldn’t doubt it. It is something to be aware of. Another question, why do I feel so passionate about elephants?

Well, the first time I came in contact with an elephant was when my parents took us to a zoo somewhere in Bangkok when I was 4 years old. A green blanket was placed on the back of a large tusked male elephant as my 3-year-old brother and I we were lifted onto him. In fact, I could still vividly recall what that was like. I was very excited but scared too. What if the elephant threw us off with its big tusks? I really held onto my brother who seemed just as excited. Eventually, the mahouts (elephant carers) would give us bananas to feed our large friend. My brother did most of the feeding as the large trunk reached over its head to grab the treats. For me, I could only sit and watch in awe as he did this.

My brother and I as kids on a Thai elephant

Ever since then, the elephant had always left a special impression on me. I didn’t know why, after all, all I did was sit on its back. Maybe, looking at the picture, it was its eyes or how calm it was? Still, whenever someone asked ‘what is your favorite animal’, I’d have to say ‘elephants’. There’s a supersition I once heard that said, touching an elephant is good luck. It is a heartbreaking shame (to me at least), that they are greatly mistreated. Hopefully, the next time I’m in Thailand, I can contribute something to elephant welfare programs or charities, and best of all, get back on a cute loveable chaang again.

PS: I’ve gotten questions from some which I’ve noted down and will address in future blog entries so if you have any, let me know and I will get to them na kha.

5 responses to “About an elephant

  1. I love elephants extremely too! Last year in India an elephant killed its own mahout – this is one of the few incidents… though rare, its still something to wonder. There was a TV coverage on this killing (actual footage) and it was gruesome to see the elephant’s power!! The reason actually was that another person in the mahout’s group was mistreating the elephant and the elephant took his anger out… We have a mail going around these days asking us all to forgive this elephant!!

    But if you see the video, you will notice the enormous power the elephant has… but whichin most cases he never exhibits and instead is so gentle and loving! And some of us have taken it for granted and exploited this sweet animal.

    When I was a kid, living in the state of Assam, in N-E India we used to walk home from School and sometimes steal a short cut through the jungle area and have often come in close proximity of wild elephants – eating shoots of banana plants, swimming in water and all that. Typically, thats all we should see them doing if we do not take away their habitat or mal-treat them. (Once in a while a elephant would go beserk and all will be warned… many stories… its lost its loved one, someone hurt it and its taking revenge….)

    2300 years ago (i found this on the net) the ancient book ‘Arthashastra’ prescibed some rules on elephant care. Some interesting ones are here:

    [daily] rations for an elephant [of standard height] shall be one drona of rice [equivalent to 13.2 kg], half an adhaka of oil [1.6 kg], 3 prasthas of ghee [2.5 kg], 10 palas of salt [.5 kg], 50 palals of flesh [2.3 kg], one adhaka of broth (rasam) [3.3 kg], or twice the quantity of curd [6.6 kg]; in order to render the dish tasteful, 10 palas of sugar (kshara) [.5 kg], one adhakara of liquor [3.3 kg], or twice the quantity of milk (payah) [6.6 kg]; one prastha of oil [.8 kg] for smearing over the body, one-eight prastha of oil [.1 kg] for the head and for keeping a light in the stables; two bharas of meadow grass [140 kg], 2.25 bharas of ordinary grass (sashpa) [157.5 kg], and 2.5 bharas of dry grass [175 kg]; and any quantity of stalks of various pulses (kadankara). (Section 137)
    “Accumulation of dirt in stables, failure to supply grass, causing an elephant to lie down on hard and unprepared ground, striking on vital parts of its body, permitting a stranger to ride it, untimely riding, leading it to water through impassable places and allowing it to enter the thick forest are offenses punishable with fines.” (Section 137)

    “Throwing sticks, mud, stones, rods or arrows on elephants, raising or waving the arms against elephants shall be treated as an assault [i.e. with the same punishment as assaulting a human].( Section 234)

    Sorry for this long post….

  2. Hi Jen Great to see a blog from another elephant lover. I like them because they are so intelligent and I like to see and ride them everytime I am in Thailand- though I am not so keen on seeing them do tricks.
    One place I always try to visit is Friends of the Asian Elephant, which may be of interest to you, as it is concerned with elephant welfare.

  3. @ trangam: Yes, I agree it’s amazing the kind of power an elephant possesses which is why we shouldn’t take this otherwise kind animal for granted or mistreat it. Actually, this would go for most animals, leaving them in their natural habitat but that isn’t always easy. And wow, amazing that you had such close experiences with them. I don’t mind the long post at all.

    @ Khun Don: Yep, it’s good to know there are others who share the elephant love. I don’t like seeing elephants used in circuses most of all, their conditions are far worse than what they really require. Thanks for the link, I will check that out and oh btw, I think I’ve stumbled upon your link website before. Well, good to bookmark it anyway.

  4. Sawasdee Krab Jen,

    Great blog to read although very sad I hope Pangs fate will get better and her evil mahouts fate gets worse!

    Something I remembered while reading your blog was a story I heard on the news last December from one of the islands near Koh Phuket when the Tsunami struck. There was a group of tourists that morning going on a short safari trek not far from the shore into the jungle. When the earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia the manhouts reported that the elephants went crazy and they had a hard time calming them down!

    Finally they calmed them enough and started to let the tourists on them to ride but about 30 mins later just as the Tsunami wave was about to crash onto the shore the elephants again went crazy and this time would not calm down no matter what! One even broke his holding chain and they all then fled by instinct into the jungle away from the water.

    Some of them with some very startled tourists along for the ride and when everyone else looked to the sea and saw what was coming they took off running too! One elephant was reported to have even picked up a small human with his trunk as they fled but I don’t know how much I believe that part 😉

    The elephants all kept running further inland into the jungle with the tsunami waves chasing close behind them until all at once they all just stopped only a few feet beyond where the water rushing inland finally stopped and receded back into the ocean.

    Sounds increadible but this was reported on CNN by several tourists that were eye witnesses there. It’s been know for years that certain animals are very sensitive to detecting things like earthquakes and dogs can even detect a coming attack of epilepsy in humans. Bizarre but true, makes the mighty elephant and other natural wonders of creation even more amazing doesn’t it?


  5. Sawasdee kha Khun Wit,

    Hopefully karma will catch up with Pang’s mahout.

    Anyway, I believe I read that same story about the elephants during the tsunami which was really interesting agreeably.

    As for the part where an elephant picked up a small human, that sounds awfully familiar to the tale of Ning Nong (a baby elephant). A little farang girl had been riding her when Ning Nong felt something wrong and just took off with the little girl on her back. Obviously, the elephant saved the little girl as her parents found her later. I can’t quite recall how else the story went but this must also have happened near Phuket.

    Now that you’ve reminded me of Phuket there are many other stories coming to mind. I have a list of blogs to write, lol (^_~) Thanks for reading.