By Imogen White – 1 week volunteer
As a fourth year vet student I have always had a strong love for animals and interest in the way in which they were looked after. As a child I always loved going to the zoo and even the circus just to get a glimpse at some of the magnificent exotic animals, particularly the elephants. However as I grew older and started doing more research I soon began to realise how poorly these animals are treated, how tough it is for them to live in captivity and the psychological damage this causes . This is why when I decided to come travelling to Thailand I knew I couldn’t visit one of the generic elephant sanctuaries where the elephants are exploited for human gain. I was lucky enough to be recommended Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary by a past volunteer.
At KSES the elephants are kept in semi wild conditions which means they are kept deep in the forest and are free to move around and forage in their natural environment. What I particularly loved is that all the elephants here have been rescued from the tourism industry after years of being exploited. For example Too Meh the oldest elephant here is 58 years old and spent most of that working for humans in both the logging and tourism industry. Here her only job is to be an elephant.
I volunteered as KSES for a week and each day began the same way. Breakfast was at 7:30 and after that the hike began to see the elephants. The length of the hike varied daily but I didn’t mind as we were following the elephants as they roamed. They weren’t being contained in one area to make it easy for us to reach them, they were the ones in control of where they went.
On the first day we got to feed the two female elephants Too Meh and Mae Doom bananas. This for me was the highlight of the trip. It was slightly nerve wracking at first as you don’t realise just how big they are until they are standing right in front of you but they were extremely well behaved and gentle. It was incredible to watch them pick the banana out your hand with their trunk and place it in their mouths.
The next 4 days were spent observing the animals without interacting with them. Some days we observed the females and other days we observed the male elephants as they were usually in two separate groups. It was incredible to see their behaviour and social interactions particularly the relationship between Gen Thong, the youngest elephant, and Boon Root without human interference. One day they spent nearly a whole hour mock fighting which was extremely entertaining. It was very interesting to see how much the animals moved and pulled down trees and foraged compared to the zoo where they usually just stand still.
This week here KSES has been an unforgettable experience. The work they are doing is incredible and it is really reflected in the elephants behaviour. I have never seen such happy elephants.