Journey to Freedom – Living with Elephants
2 hours from the city of Chiang Mai, in the Mae Wang area, a Karen Hill Tribe village and their 4 elephants live life in the forest of the mountains. Using the jungle as part of their daily lives, it provides a lifeline for the hill tribe and their elephants. With the ability to use plants and herbs for medicinal purposes as well as provide the elephants with a constant food source, the Karen people understand that thejungle allows the community to thrive off the beaten track.
Deep in the jungle you can find 4 elephants who have returned from their lives of trekking and performing to live naturally in the forest which now surrounds them. With mother and daughter, Mebai and Mae Yui remaining close to one another as they fear that they may once again be separated, their lives in the jungle mean not only freedom, but also family. With nanny Boon Sri fondly watching over Mebai and young bull Erawan, this herd of elephants can now reconnect with their natural habitat and once again live life like their wild ancestors as a family.
As a Journey to Freedom volunteer, daily encounters with the elephants of the project allows you to understand their stories, get to know their personalities and observe their likes and dislikes. Walk through the jungle alongside a herd who choose their own path and travel as together.
“With the sound of breaking branches and trampled leaves filling the air, you know that you are not alone on the side of the mountain. The gentle footsteps go almost unheard as the elephants wade through the jungle to meet the new visitors who have travelled to their home. As a large female appears through the thick trees, you can see the outline of a small figure sneaking up behind her. Under the watchful eye of her mother, this young elephant investigates the new sounds and voices that fill the jungle air. We learn that her name is Mebai and her protective mother who watches us closely is called Mae Yui. Unburdened by our presence, Boon Sri, another female elephant appears with young bull Erawan by her side.
They forage through the trees together, collecting their favourite leaves and vines. Observing the elephants as they enjoy their natural lives, we notice that, unlike the other 3 elephants, Boon Sri seems to be enjoying the taste of the jungle flowers. As the herd decided to move on to a new location, we follow closely to see where they will lead the group. On this hot day, it does not come as a surprise when we walk through a clearing, which leads towards a pond. The 4 elephants wade through the water, spraying themselves and each other. As they roll around in the cool water, their joyful trumpets and squeaks fill the air around us. While the females continue to play and swim, Erawan the young bull, appears interested in the unfamiliar group that watches him. He wonders towards us to see if we have any hidden food to offer. Discovering the tamarind that we have brought to him, he gladly uses his trunk to collect the tasty treats before the rest of the herd travel over to receive their share of the delicious tamarind.
Spending time with the elephants and watching them reconnect with nature and one another, really is a once in a life time experience. Collecting and distributing some of their favourite food and watching as they rummage through the pile to find the best pieces shows how particular they are. Hiking through the jungle for hours, we begin to understand the different behaviours that elephants show when they are able to roam freely through their natural habitat”