“They’ll never believe us back in the shire that we saw elefonts, Merry"
04.03.2012 - 05.03.2012 32 °C
So we booked a two-day Mahout course at the elephant village and were picked up in the morning to be driven out. We undertook the now routine procession around the guesthouses for 30 minutes before being deposited at the office we had booked at, some 300m from our guesthouse.
We did arrive though and by 11am we were being the taught the basics of Mahouting (or being an elephant driver). Seven basic commands and a list of do’s and don’t and we got our first taste of elephant riding. A 30 year old elephant called Mang Sae bends her right leg and while putting pressure on the base of the right ear I clamber up to sit on the neck. It feels a long way up and as the Mang Sae starts walking under the command of “pie pie” her giant shoulder blades move up and down under my bum. Its only a 5 minute lap but is magical. Lynne does hers and we can’t wipe the smiles off our faces.
Lynne's first ride.
After checking in to our rooms and a quick bite to eat we get an hour ride on the back of the elephants in the chairs. Half way down the first hill the elephants real Mahout turns around and asks me to swap with him since I’m on the two day course. Its actually quite unnerving at times as the elephants, slowly but with very sure feet, tackle very steep gradients and sharp turns down the river bank. By the time we swap I have left some very sweaty leg marks on the back of the elephants neck. She doesn’t seem to mind.
View from the ground.
The elephants are all ex-logging elephants where they worked long hard days pulling timber in difficult environments. A few have lost an eye in accidents. Others had been fed amphetamines to make them work longer hours. Three hours of tourists riding on their backs a day, two washes and all the food they want is a relative life of luxury for these beautiful animals.
When we get back from the ride we get to feed them bananas as treats. The dexterity of the elephant’s trunks are amazing as they pick up individual bananas and roll them into their mouths. These elephants are all females (males are too big and strong willed) and weigh between 2.5-3.5 tones. They eat 250 kg of food a day and drink 200 litres of water. The sanctuary buys in 1.5 tons of food a day for them!
The elephants only work a half day and after they have been washed we meet up with them on the far side of the bank and ride them 30 mins into the jungle where they are left over night to roam within the protected forest valley and eat. They wear leg chains to stop them roaming into farmland and villages and getting hurt. We hear later that one of the Mahouts didn’t put the pin in the chain properly and one of the elephants has escaped. Some local fishermen come up and say she is roaming free along the bank. She is soon ridden back to the jungle for the night by her Mahout. (Did you know elephants live to 90 years old, only sleep one hour a night and are as clever as monkeys and dolphins with self-regard and use of tools, as well as a huge range of emotion).
After spending the rest of the afternoon by the pool and having a lovely dinner by the river with our group (a very cool set of Germans, Dutch and French) we retire for the night.
The next morning we are up early to pick up the elephants and take them for their morning bath. It’s amazing how quickly your initial fear subsides around these animals and I hop straight up (despite being given the largest elephant) and start riding her down to the river.
Lynne however pretty quickly gets a reminder of how powerful and willful these animals are as her elephant starts running and veering into the jungle with the elephant’s Mahout behind Lynne shouting while holding Lynne on by the cameras shoulder strap. However the elephant quickly settles down and we soon reach the river and wade in and start scrubbing. Some of the elephants like their baths, some aren’t so keen, two of them like nothing better than to dive under the water with only their trunks showing as all the other Mahouts roar with laughter as the elephants Mahout get very wet. They have such a range of personalities.
Saying good bye.
We had such an incredible time at the village and loved every second of being around such magnificent creatures. The village does a great job looking after them with an onsite vet. The future for elephants is very bleak though as their natural habitat is logged and burnt, and those left in the logging industry are being replaced by machines. Well run centers like this offer some form of hope for ex-logging elephants but it is predicted Asian elephants will be extinct in the wild in 50 years.