Caring for injured elephants

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, May 3rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Up next on The World and Everything in It, saving elephants in Asia.

Fewer than 30,000 Asian elephants are left in the world. Nearly one in five of them live in Thailand, where conservationists are working hard to protect them.

Elephants face threats from poachers, animal traps, and landmines buried along Thailand’s border with Burma, also known as Myanmar.

EICHER: Injuries to the elephants are common. And WORLD Radio’s Jill Nelson visited one sanctuary in Thailand that adopts those injured elephants.

She explains now why caring for these giant creatures is a full-time job.

AUDIO: Nature sound

JILL NELSON, REPORTER: The animal sanctuary near Chiang Mai, Thailand, has many animals and very few fences. Cats curl up on shelves in the gift shop, dogs tease elephants, and water buffalo try to steal the elephants’ food.

AUDIO: Sound of male elephant

But the elephants are the main attraction.

AUDIO: Sound of elephant eating

45-year-old See Nuan is the largest elephant in the park. Our guide, Nahae Saela, Ann for short, gives us a bucket of bananas to feed her. When we don’t do it fast enough, the elephant starts swinging her trunk.

Elephants spend most of their waking hours eating. They consume an astonishing 300 to 600 pounds of food a day.

Each of the 30 elephants has a touching story.

AUDIO: She is handicap. She is handicap because of her working in logging. 

Thai Koon’s former owner used her for logging in Burma, just to the north of Thailand. One day Thai Koon stepped on an old land mine.

AUDIO: After they step on the land mine they have no place to live. They have no medicine. Then they call us and we rescue Thai Koon.

AUDIO: Sound of elephants eating and birds chirping

Thai Koon’s owner sold her to the sanctuary four years ago. Now a veterinarian treats her wounds and changes her yellow bandage daily. She limps as she walks.

Three other elephants at the sanctuary also have land mine injuries.

Many others are blind from too many years of hard labor and no medical treatment for eye infections.

One blind elephant and another with a dislocated hip have developed a close bond.

AUDIO: These two ladies they always spend time together every day and they sleep in the shelter… their bedroom.. They will sleep by each other so they can talk at night keep in touch. 

AUDIO: Sound of birds, Ann talking, and elephants

Another elephant called Sun Ping had a good owner. And after he retired her, he followed her to the sanctuary and got a job working as her trainer. He’s a small man who looks like he worked as many years as his elephant.  

Sun Ping won’t eat unless he’s nearby, so the trainer sits on a tire while she grazes. He always keeps a flower in the ear hole where her logging tag used to be. Today, the flower is red. When she starts walking toward us, he gives a few commands.

AUDIO: Elephants is like children. You need to talk to them all the time. If you don’t, they will come all the way.

Sun Ping responds immediately to her trainer’s command and backs up. We were apparently in no danger that time.

AUDIO: Be careful…

But another elephant made us run. She’s an orphan with a reputation as a  naughty girl. Most elephants only require one trainer, but this frisky gal breaks away from her three trainers and heads straight for our group.

AUDIO: Be careful! Be careful! Run away, run away, run away!

Her trainers got her under control. But the baby elephant seemed satisfied at having made this gawking group of tourists run. Ann tells us she’s a bit spoiled. She cries out when her trainers give her the slightest swat and her nanny elephants come running to her side.

Those two stories had happy endings, but last year in Chiang Mai, a male elephant killed its trainer. The males at this sanctuary are kept in separate enclosures with limited human contact.

AUDIO: People singing Bob Marley song, “Don’t Worry”

Caring for these elephants is a full-time job, but elephant-lovers are easy to find. Today, a group of about 30 volunteers from around the world wrap up a week of working at the sanctuary. They sing as they unload pumpkins, bananas, and other elephant favorites from a truck.

AUDIO: Sound of river bathing

These sanctuary elephants don’t have many worries. If they were living in the wild, they might live 70 years. But here, they can live up to age 80 or 90.

Even their bathing in the river is taken care of by visitors eager to mingle with these giant creatures.

AUDIO: These elephants they don’t work, they don’t do anything. They just eat, spend time with each other and go to the river only.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Jill Nelson, reporting from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

(Photo/Jill Nelson)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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