05.01.2007 - 16.01.2007 25 °C
Arriving at the new Thailand airport, one doesn't take long to notice the display of the photo and symbol of the king everywhere. Even with the recent military coup and bombings on New Year's Eve, most Thai seemed to lead a normal daily life.
Like other asian cities, night markets are abundant in Bangkok. However, only after a day of sightseeing at the Grand Palace and floating market, I was ready to leave the air pollution behind for the Wildlife Rescue Centre, a real sanctuary for both human and animals, located in the Petchuburi province, about 2.5 hr southwest of Bangkok.
The illegalization of using elephants for logging in 1990s had driven Thailand's once sacred animal, the asian elephants, into money-making tool for some mahouts in many resort areas, together with many gibbons and other wildlife animals which are used for entertainment purposes.
I was introduced to three of the lucky ones, Kwaeta, Nun Foon and Non Bow, all females asian elephants over 30 years old, at 6:30am the following morning. Our three mahouts, Joi, Bum and Ta Ta, unchained them in the nearby forest. We, the volunteers, ride them to the center, fill up three large baskets of pineapple leaves and scatter them on the ground for them to enjoy. In the afternoon, we collect the leftover leaves, clean their 'poops' and take them to the river for a nice scrub and bath.
A strange kind of trust slowly emerged after only a few days of intimate experience of taking care of such a magical creature. It doesn't take me long to fall in love with these giant beauties with the charisma and intelligence that they process. There are the occasional show of affection between Kwaeta and Non Bow, with their trunks curling up in each other mouth.
I can spend hours observing their behaviour.
Working with elephants are also physically demanding, as we have to collect pineapple leaves every week in the plantations under a blasting sun for hours. But sitting on top of six feet of pineapple leaves after an hour of loading in the back of an open truck with a crazy mahout driver on bumpy roads is definitely a highlight.
Besides elephants, there are also over 10 bears at the centre. Most days after the elephant feeding, I would help the other volunteers to scatter and hide fresh fruits in branches inside the enclosure. One particular baby bear who was separated from his mother at an very early age, would make a calling sound with his paw over his mouth everytime I stand in front of him, as if he is asking me to nurse him.
Another treasure at the centre was a bengal tiger which was rescued from a small cage at a gas station which use him to make money. Because of the prolong entrapment from birth, his leg muscle was never developed fully. To balance himself when walking, this beautiful animal would swing from side to side. Watching this would simply break anyone's heart.
Gibbons, macquet and lacquer are also abundance. Some are blind, some missing limbs and some who had a hard time to socialize because they were kept as pets. Food, water and special diet are administered to them carefully everyday. A few aggressive ones would try to show their disdain to different type of people. Some hate asians, some hates caucasians, some hate women and some hates men. Who said animals are not racist like the fellow human being? But then who can blame them given their individual sad story in their past?
A week had flew by too quick. Saying goodbye to all my new friends at the centre, especially the animals, was very hard. Despite of my sadness, I will have to move on with my trip, only hoping to return and lend my help at the centre in the future.