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Mae Moo

December 3, 2020

“Can you spell ‘elephant’?”  I was about seven or eight, so no, probably not.  My grand-uncle loved to ask me if I could spell elephant.  He and my grand-aunt had been on safari in Africa.  They saw wild elephants.  I was fascinated by their adventures, but could not spell elephant.  And from the day that I could, he never asked me again.  Where would the fun in that be?  But elephants had taken hold in my imagination.  My grand-aunt collected them, figurines, statuettes, ornaments, carvings, sculptures.  Who would have guessed that forty-odd years later, I would find myself feeding and scrubbing and walking with these magnificent beings?  And you, gentle reader, can find that tale here.

My experience caring for Phoolkali and Maya and the others in India opened the door for conversation about asian elephants with a Thai friend.  She lives in the big city and was aware of elephant camps and “sanctuaries” in her country, but had no idea how they are treated in some, sadly most, of them.  The abuse and neglect in the name of entertainment and profit is heartbreaking.  Beaten into performing unnatural behaviors such as standing on their hind legs, giving rides under injurious saddle rigs, ‘playing soccer,’ and doing other tricks, the elephants are emotionally and psychologically broken, often malnourished and seldom receiving any medical care at all.  This is how they have always been used to fuel tourism.

But things are changing.  The shining star in the Thai elephant sanctuary movement is Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai.  Since the 1990s, they have been rescuing and rehabilitating asian elephants while being open to the public for observation and minimal interaction.

When the founder of Maesa Elephant Camp, also near Chiang Mai, transferred ownership to his daughter, she took the opportunity to make a drastic pivot in the operation.  After reaching out to Elephant Nature Park for guidance, the saddle rigs and bull hooks are gone.  There are no more chains and spikes, no more performances.  The resident elephants are allowed agency over their days.  They choose where they go, what they do, what they do not do.  They have a river and lush jungle to explore, plus shelter, feeding, and medical care from the humans committed to this new way.

My friend went to visit when they reopened after the closure for covid-19.  She helped prepare the elephants’ food and give it to them.  She watched them just being elephants.  Then she reported to me what she saw.  It’s a good place.  They are doing right by the previously enslaved pachyderms.

So, now I have one more ele-friend, through long-distance adoption, whom I will go meet in person at first opportunity.  They send new photos and videos of Mae Moo every month.  Her life is good now.  If you would like your own personal ele-friend, check out the website and adoption options. 


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jess permalink
    December 3, 2020 20:15

    Love this! Mae Moo warms my heart. Thanks Molly!

  2. Sahitya permalink
    December 4, 2020 07:43

    Such a thoughtful piece Molly! Brings back memories of your lovely time in India at the Elephant sanctuary.

    • December 4, 2020 11:01

      Thanks! It surely does. They have expanded the property, opened the elephant hospital, and rescued many new eles since I was there.

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