By Talia Gale – Research and Volunteer Coordinator
On 1st May 2016, we set off on our Walk For Freedom. This was the moment we had all been anxiously waiting for, finally being able to bring our elephants home by walking them over 70km through the forests of Northern Thailand to reach our sanctuary & raise enough money to keep them there!
The walk began in the early hours of the morning; we set off at about 6am into the forests of Northern Thailand. The team included three elephants, Too Meh, Boon Rott and Gen Thong, their mahouts, and a few other family members to help along the way. The elephants happily munched on trees and plants as they roamed, and we trailed behind. In tourist camps, elephants are often fed a diet of grass, bamboo, corn and sugary treats such as bananas and sugarcane. In the wild, Asian Elephants have been observed eating over 100 different species of plants and have even been known to self-medicate by eating certain species to cure ailments. It was amazing to see the elephants’ natural instincts kick in as they knew exactly what plants to eat in the forest.
The journey was slow as we walked at ‘elephant pace’ and often stopped at streams and creeks so the elephants could drink and have a cool bath. These short breaks were a welcome rest to us humans whose bodies are not accustomed to scaling the hills of Northern Thailand, but the elephants seemed to enjoy being able to explore their natural habitat again. The day finished after 12 hours of walking, but unfortunately we had little rest! At midnight we were woken up by the sound of a thunderstorm approaching. Luckily the storm passed and, a little weary and wet, we set off the next morning at 5am.
On day 2 of the Walk for Freedom, we took a long and much needed rest at a river along the way. The elephants were provided with corn and banana trees to eat. It is currently dry season in Northern Thailand and although the elephants are able to forage in the forest as they please, their diets often need to be supplemented with grass or corn. Deforestation and slash-and-burn agriculture are a constant threat to Thailand’s forests, and with Thailand currently facing its worst drought in 20 years, it is sometimes hard for the elephants to find ample food supplies.
The walk was finally finished on day 3 when the team reached the village and sanctuary. We were greeted by the whole village watching the parade of pachyderms and people march their way to the river at the bottom of the village. The elephants were welcomed with treats such as bananas and sugar cane. After 3 days and 30 hours of walking, the elephants had finally reached their sanctuary & we humans could finally put our feet up! The elephants are now happily roaming through the forest & we are waiting for our first visitors & volunteers to arrive. We can’t wait to share our wonderful elephants with them!