By Kerri McCrea – Manager & Co-Founder
In 1998, the Thai government declared the 13th March to be Thai National Elephant Day, this date was chosen as it is also the date the white elephant became the national animal of Thailand in 1963. The day was made to celebrate and show how significant elephants are to Thailand, how the Thai culture depends on elephants and also to promote awareness about protecting and conserving the Thai elephants and their natural habitat.
This date also marks our 10 month anniversary of our first 4 elephants returning to the forest at Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary. It has been a rollercoaster ride from the beginning with many challenges along the way, but with every challenge comes the reward when you learn how to over-come it, and there is no better reward than being able to witness and spend time with our semi-wild herd of very happy and healthy elephants roaming the forests in Northern Thailand!
We have seen such a change in our elephants since bringing them home. Too Meh is our oldest elephant, at 55 years old she was the main drive for us to set-up this project, to be able to find an alternative where she can live life as free as possible, something that her owner (my partner Sombat’s father) was very much looking for. She has most defiantly shown herself as the gentle matriarch of the herd, always communicating the direction that they are to go using both body movements and light rumbles. Once she has communicated this, the group very quickly moves off in the direction she has chosen.
Mae Doom is our next oldest elephant in her early twenties and is the daughter of Too Meh. She has become very maternal over her young nephew Gen Thong and made an unbreakable bond with him, the two are very rarely apart. Mae Doom is always on the look out for any signs of danger in the forest, she is always the first to hear a cow, buffalo or dog nearby and will always run to her mother to seek reassurance when she does. These types of behaviours are very natural in a herd and it has been amazing to observe how quickly Mae Doom and Too Meh have adapted to each other after being apart for so long. Elephants really do never forget.
Gen Thong is our youngest elephant at 4 years old and is the grand-son of Too Meh and nephew of Mae Doom. Gen Thong lost his mother when he was 2 years old in a horrific accident in the tourist camp they were in at the time, when a wasp nest fell on her head and the poisons of the stings killed her. After that happened, Gen Thong really struggled with life in the tourist camps. He very quickly became known as an aggressive young bull that many of the workers were scared of going close to. However, since bringing him home to the forest, he has changed drastically. Mae Doom has taken him under her wing and he has now become very calm and patient elephant who likes to follow his family around and watch, copy and learn from their behaviours and foraging patterns, much like a young calf in the wild!!
Boon Rott is our final elephant, a young bull at 11 years old. He is always a favourite with our guests because of his handsome and striking stance, majestic tusks and very people-friendly nature. Boon Rott is the most playful elephant I have the honour to get to know. He enjoys being around almost anyone, whether you are an elephant, human, cow or buffalo, Boon Rott will always try to make your acquaintance. This is something we have been very lucky with as it is quite common for unrelated elephants to not get along, Boon Rott has been accepted by the herd from the very beginning.
Over the last 10 months, we have not only returned our 4 elephants and their mahouts from the tourists camps to the village and forest that they know as home, we have also set-up homestays to create an alternative livelihood for our community, started a reforestation project, gave free English lessons to the school and local people and began carrying out some much needed research on natural elephant behaviour in a move to create better elephant welfare throughout South East Asia.