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Overview - Elephants in Thailand
by Adam Flinn
The author permits free use of this article for colleges and students on condition that it is not edited and the author is credited, as the information source, in whatever media used to reproduce the material.
The elephant is the largest land mammal on our planet but it might not be with us for much longer!
Of all the creature of the world none mirrors the life term of man as the elephant. Living to the ripe old age of 70 years they mature in a very similar way as that of human beings.
The main difference is actually before they are born. The mother is pregnant for just short of two years before the baby arrives.
During their early years the calf follows the mother everywhere learning invaluable survival lessons from her and the rest of the herd. They will also have a special auntie, chosen by the mother as a pseudo-parent in case anything untoward should happen to her. A matriarch, chosen for her keen knowledge of the best feeding areas and skill in leading the herd is the undisputed ruler in the main group consisting of females of varying ages. Males are kept within this herd until they reach the ages of around 13. At that time they are send into exile with the other males and keep a distance of a few kilometers from the females returning only when it is time to repopulate the herd.
They are secretive and shy, keeping their distance from other animals. They especially hate dogs and horses and generally prefer their own company. Most of the day is spent eating and they consume an astonishing 150-300 kg of jungle fodder per day. They enjoy bamboo shoots, grass and all sorts of greens. They sometimes become intoxicated after eating over-ripe fruit. In addition to this massive diet, which only about 50% of which is digested they drink about 150 litres of water daily. It is now clearly evident why it is wrong for them to be in the cities. There simply is no way they can get enough nourishment to keep them sustained. Only four hours are needed to rest each night and they only lie down to sleep when they are sick.
For over 5,000 years elephants have been in the service of man and, until a few centuries ago roamed over much of the planet. At the start of this century there was over 100,000 of them in Siam (Thailand) and the numbers of the Asian elephant species would have been in the millions. Today there are only 3,000-4,000 alive in Thailand amidst a global population that has been estimated as low as 30,000.
Imagine it...in human terms this is the less than Arsenal soccer team supporters at an average home game. Just consider what our world would be like if that was all there were of us ... so few that they could comfortably fit into a sports stadium.
Numbers have declined for a number of reasons, not least hunting but the biggest threat they face right now is through human population growth that encroaches their grazing land. They literally have nowhere left to go.
Coupled with the lack of work for the domestic elephant due to the 1989 logging ban the future looks very bleak for the species indeed.
Fortunately for them one lady is concerned with their plight and devotes much of her time to helping them. Sangduen Chailert (Lek) has initiated a programme to look after sick animals. Covering the entire Northern region she travels to instruct the mahouts (elephant trainers) on basic health care and diet. Injections and pills are administered when necessary more often than not- as well as wound cleaning.
Although the mahouts have been with their elephants for a number of years they still need fundamental advice on how to care for their animals. From overwork to worms there are many subjects beyond the scope of most mahouts and Lek visits teach them how to keep their animals healthy, happy and in prime condition. She calls on over one dozen elephants per week and sometimes more than that in one single day. Her travels take her over some very rough terrain accessible only by four wheel-drive vehicles.
Medicine is expensive and most of it comes via donations from well-wishers. Gem Travel are the main benefactors, using their profits and support services such as transportation to assist wherever they can. The medical help is given free to impoverished mahouts. Without it their elephant would soon succumb to disease and perish. It is difficult to afford the medication but so far resources have barely covered.
Lek's project is called "Jumbo Express", and covers all of Northern Thailand.
Lek with her elephants