Interview with Niti from Elephant's World Sanctuary
Edu-Odyssey (E.O): Please tell us a bit about Elephant World.
Niti: At Elephant World, we were founded in 2008 and started this place with 3 old elephants. Now we’ve got 27 elephants. The elephants had to work very hard so we had the goal that the elephants should have some time to rest and retire. Now we don’t only have old elephants, but adults, babies and sick ones.
E.O.: Where do the elephants come from?
Niti: They come from 3 industries. The first is logging. This industry is very hard for elephants because people use them to drag logs back to villages where they can make furniture and they’re very heavy.
Some people also give bad medicine to them to give them more energy so they can work more than normal but this hurts them. As this industry continued, the forests decreased so the Thai government banned it. So the Mahouts (elephant trainers) took the elephants to the second industry: street elephants.
In the past you could see a lot of street elephant in Bangkok or other big cities. They are walking around begging for food and money. This is the most horrible industry for the elephant. You have small ears but is it noisy in the city? Yeah, but the elephants have big ears and can hear kilometers away so it’s very noisy for them. Elephants are very good at listening and smelling but not very good at seeing. So they can not see properly when the car runs by so it scares them a lot. In the summer time they have to walk on the hot concrete roads. Think about when you take your shoes off and walk on the hot concrete road, it’s very hot. So they sometimes burn their feet. They are big animals but they have soft feet in the middle. It makes them stressed and angry easily. Many times cars honk their horns at them because they have to walk on the road. Sometimes cars will have an accident and hit an elephant.
We have one elephant here names Malee. She worked as a street elephant before and got in a car accident. She had to stay in the hospital for 3 years to heal her legs. Humans only take about 3 months before you can walk again but elephants take 3 years. At night-time they will sleep under the bridge even though cars run over it all day and night. The Thai government also solved this problem and banned it so there are no more street elephants.
The last industry is what we call tourist industry. Right now thereare elephant shows, trekking camps, also places like Elephant World. There are already about 4 places in Thailand like Elephant World. Nearby there is one called Elephant Heaven. There’s also one in northern Thailand and one in Phuket. These places we can work together with elephants. That’s how we have our slogan “We work for the elephants, the elephants don’t work for us”
A lot of people come here and feel happy because they can see the elephants walking around without people riding them. In safari parks you can’t really touch them or go near them or take pictures closely. You just get in the car and see them. But here people can pet them, play with them, feed them closely.
E.O.: What is the life of the Mahout like?
Niti: The job of Mahout isn’t one that Thais usually want because it’s not a big salary. All are Karen people, a tribal group from Burma. They come to work in Thailand because when you stay in Burma you work all day but are paid a little bit so cannot feed their family very well. So when they come here, the pay isn’t much but it’s better than Burma so they choose to work here.
Most of them want to stay with their elephants. I’ve been working here 6 months but really love them. Mahouts stay with them all day. Only in the evenings elephants stay alone. Because we don’t have a big enough space or a good enough fence to keep them from eating other neighbor’s plants and because sometimes if they don’t like each other they will try to fight, we chain them in the jungle nearby.
The mahout will cut the grass and prepare food for them then. They eat one basket of food in the morning and one at night. It’s enough food for them and they can be happy and have full bellies.
E.O.: Can you describe the problems that elephants cause when they’re re-released into the wild?
Niti: In my hometown, the Thai government takes illegal elephants, those without papers, back to the jungle. But some elephants have lost their wild skills so they don’t know how to live in the jungle so they’ll come back to towns. So the village near my hometown has this problem. Villagers have a lot of trouble with elephants that won’t go back to the jungle, they just take the farmers food and they eat a lot. So the place we have here is a solution, where we can take care of them.
They are very intelligent and they know everything people do so the villagers can’t do anything. If people don’t go too close, they won’t harm people. If people don’t harm them, they won’t hurt people.
E.O.: Are there any other animals you believe also need protection in Thailand today?
Niti: I think that street dogs also need protection. When you go into town there are many street dogs on the roads. Some people are very kind to animals and collect food from shops to feed them but no people come to give them vaccines and their numbers are not controlled so there are more and more. People should try to fix this.
We also have a lot of dogs here, around 50. All have been fixed. We got these dogs from people just leaving them at the front of our park, and we give them food inside so they stay.That’s how we get new members here, lol.
E.O.: Ok, last question! Do you have a favorite elephant?
Niti: My favorite is Kammu, sexy girl! If you come her and ask who is ‘sexy girl’ they will let you know it’s Kammu. She is the biggest elephant here and the first one we got. She and Malee are best friends. She is the boss because she is the biggest so when she moves everyone wants to move out of her way! She has small eyes and a fat butt so we call her sexy girl. She’s so cute! She’s 89 years old, but very healthy. Malee is 79 years old. They are best friends.