A Lesson in Patience – The Rescue of Permpoon

We first met Permpoon back in June 2015. She was thin and clearly exhausted from the six decades of forced labour she had endured…

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Permpoon is blind in one eye and her skin is dull, dry and punctured in multiple places. Her physical scars are proof of her hard and abusive history, but it is the invisible wounds that pain Permpoon the most. The bruises in her heart, the trauma in her mind, the agonising memories of constant beatings and gruelling days of tourists climbing on to her back and sitting in heavy benches precariously balanced on her protruding spine – these are the scars that are hidden within her and the ones that can take a life time to heal….

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Permpoon’s story is not all doom and gloom. Her most recent owners found her working in a camp in the south of Thailand and took pity on her. They purchased her, with a plan to fatten her up, get her strong and then put her to work, but after several months, they realised she was just too old and too tired to ever be worked again. They wanted to ensure Permpoon was taken care of and so reached out to BLES.

BLES has been rescuing elephants for almost ten years now and we have been able to maintain an immaculate reputation as well as positive and open relationships with almost every single person we have dealt with over the years. We are now getting contacted regularly by elephant owners who are elderly and want to retire not just themselves, but their elephants too. The owners turn to us, because they know they can trust us.

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There have been several complications in the rescue of Permpoon and many of these I was not able to publicly discuss at the time, as it could have jeopardised the entire operation.

Many of you will remember Permpoon’s ‘Dress Rehearsal’ – the day we all traveled to Chiang Mai to collect her and bring her home to BLES. Despite the fact that all of Permpoon’s documentation was in order, the travel documents were complete and had already been approved a day earlier, we were told we could not travel with Permpoon. We were given no other option than to turn back, with Permpoon already loaded in to the truck and return her to the camp. The reason? The official wanted to “double check” all her papers.

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We were all crushed to be returning to BLES without Permpoon. Days turned in to weeks and then weeks in to months… None of us could understand the hold up, as we all knew the paperwork was in order. It didn’t make sense…

Trusted friends and faithful supporters, I can now reveal that the officials were being bribed by another facility that did not want BLES to rescue Permpoon. We will not share the identity of this organisation, as we have much more integrity than that. But, we do know who it was and we want to express how deeply upsetting it has been. Not just to us, but to all of you, who donated in good faith towards the urgent rescue of this delicate elephant – who really, at the end of the day, was the biggest victim in all of this unnecessary bureaucracy and pointless drama.

On top of dealing with the stresses these complications have entailed, there has been an individual spreading hateful lies around the internet about me, my family, my staff and my life’s work – BLES. These fabrications have been near soul destroying for my family and I… This person has tried to smear their evil, made up notions all over the internet, contacting BLES supporters privately and trying to shock them in to withdrawing their faith in our work. This person has also posted publicly. Most recently stating that we have not rescued the real Permpoon – we did an elephant swap!!!

This person’s poison has included accusations of the most personal things you can imagine. They have threatened to slander our name in the British tabloids and have even hinted at interfering with my visa status here in Thailand. The allegations are unfounded and untrue and we are amazed at how this person has twisted every word and shamelessly slandered BLES and everything we represent. How can we even begin to comprehend such nastiness? We think this person started getting frustrated with the hold ups surrounding Permpoon and decided to voice their upset in the most distasteful manner imaginable. We also believe this person was involved with the organisation who was bribing the officials against us and that they were feeding this person’s overactive imagination with falsified information.

It has been a highly disturbing and difficult time and having to put up with this harassment has been utterly draining. However, we have been so inspired by the love and support we have received from the people this person has contacted. Thankfully, as the allegations this person has thrown out have been so laughable, it has brought BLES and our dedicated supporters even closer than before and we are now stronger than ever. BLES stands united in our passion for a loving world and believe we are all interconnected: When you deliberately hurt another person with such rage and compulsion, you are in turn hurting the animals.

Luckily, we are made of strong stuff and I, for one, will not let this person’s tantrums and negativity trouble me any longer.  As I sit here working on this blog, I smile and think of the wise words from Mahatma Ghandi, “I will not let your anger consume me”.

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Permpoon has been with us at BLES for one week now. She is taking things very slowly and we are allowing her all the time and space she needs. Her resistance to trust in us proves she has been abused for years on end and we are all very troubled to witness her fear. We know that Permpoon will eventually come to the realisation that we only want to love and take care of her. She will soon understand that we want nothing from her and that in our eyes, she can do no wrong…

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I have already learnt so much from Permpoon. She has taught us the true meaning of perserverence and patience. Many people thought we would walk away from her rescue, but we remained focussed and determined. We refused to let corruption win and stayed true to our morals. It may have taken us a long time to bring Permpoon home to BLES, but despite the fact we had so much working against us, we did it!!!

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I can not thank you enough for all your messages of faith, love and hope. We would never have been able to reach out and rescue Permpoon without your unconditional support and I want to congratulate each and every one of you – Patience is a form of action and is the acceptance that things can happen in a different order from the one you had in mind.

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Permpoon is now and forever safe in our loving arms. It may have taken longer than predicted to get her here, but none of that matters anymore. All that is important is the here and now and the fact that Permpoon is forever safe.

Thank you for making her rescue possible!

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A new star in the sky…. Our darling Naamfon

This is so hard to write… How can I possibly compose a blog entry, when I am struggling to compose myself??

Yesterday, was one of the toughest days we have ever known here at BLES… At around 6.30am, Phi Tien came running up to my house and told me he had found Naamfon lying down, unable to stand. I ran as fast as I could in to the forest and found her. She was on her side, her body was shaking. I told Phi Tien to phone all the mahouts and tell them to come as quickly as possible. As I watched him leave, I noticed Pang Suai and Pang Noi in the lake, submerging themselves in the water and enjoying an early morning swim…

I went to Naamfon and knelt in front of her. She locked her gaze on me and lifted her head as much as she could off the ground reaching out to me with her trunk.  I took her trunk in my hands and squeezed her tight. Her breathing was very laboured and I could tell she was trying to stand. I kept hold of her trunk and noticed she was gently squeezing my hands. Her eyes were still locked on me and as I whispered to her, telling her over and over how much we loved her, I noticed a bright yellow butterfly settle on her cheek. I tried so hard to stay strong for Naamfon, but I knew what was happening and could not stop the tears from falling. The butterfly fluttered up towards Naamfon’s shoulder and I realised Naamfon no longer had a tight grip on my hands. I looked down at her trunk and my hands holding on to each other. My tears had made small puddles in the deep crevices of her beautiful trunk. I squeezed her as tight as I could and begged her not to go, but it I knew it was too late. As I lifted my head and looked in to her eyes, I saw a tear roll down her face. After more than sixty years of being enslaved by humans, Naamfon was finally free of this world.

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I stayed with Naamfon, stroking her and holding her. Despite the fact I was sobbing, I kept on talking to her, telling her how beautiful she was and how sorry I was for all the pain and heartache she had endured throughout her life. We were alone, in the long grass, in the middle of thick forest – Naamfon, me and the yellow butterfly. It was so peaceful and there was a cool, gentle breeze that seemed to lift us up off the ground. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath…

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After what felt like many long hours, the mahouts arrived. They rushed to help, but as they got closer, they could see it was too late. They gathered and stood in silence. It was incredible to sit there and feel the respect and love radiate from them, to her. Naamfon’s mahout, Phi Duery, stepped closer. I looked up at him and smiled, thanking him for ensuring the last eleven and a half months of her life were filled with care, love and understanding. He couldn’t speak. I could see he was shaking and decided to step back and allow him the time and privacy he needed to say whatever he wanted to say to her.

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As the day unfolded, the reality that Naamfon was gone came in waves. We all took it in turns to lay flowers and fruit by her body and as it started to rain, we covered in her in her deep turquoise coat, that had been specially made for her. I stood there, thinking how beautiful she looked and remembered how she looked just as stunning wearing her coat the day we rescued her. She stood in the truck, with her head high and her trunk in the air, wrapped up in her coat, to protect her from the wind and rain… It is hard to accept that we made that long journey with her, less than a year ago…

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Four monks from the local temple came and blessed Naamfon. As they chanted, I looked around at the mahouts, the housekeepers, my guests, my children and I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and gratefulness. We are a small group of people and we work together, every single day to better the wellbeing of all the animals in our care. It’s not an easy life and the highs and lows can be debilitating. But we continue on, supporting each other and loving each other as if we are family. Our elephants are just as much a part of our family and even though Naamfon’s time with us was brief, I know she knew how very loved and admired she was by us all.

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We had gathered a pile of all of Naamfon’s favourite treats, from pineapples, to longons. I noticed a fig tree close by… Naamfon would stand under the fig trees for hours, hoovering up the sweet fruits that had fallen to the ground. I caught Phi Duery’s eye and he knew what I was thinking instantly. Without muttering a word, we both set to work, collecting as many of the figs as we could carry to complete the fruit offering.

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The housekeepers had gathered flowers and once everyone was together, we stood around Naamfon’s grave and sprinkled petals into it. There was a sweet chorus of loving words that fell in to the grave with the petals and again, I was overcome with emotion. This is a BLES tradition. When we lose one of our beloved elephants, we line the grave with flower petals. This is our symbolic and united apology to the elephants. After a lifetime of chains, may they lie, forever in peace, on a bed of flowers…

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Naamfon’s body was carefully lifted and lowered in to the grave. As we watched her slowly rise, the sun shining behind her, a light sprinkle of rain caressed us in our moments of grief, which was significant as Naamfon is Thai for rain water.

It was incredible – Naamfon held on tightly to the flowers that had been placed in her trunk and did not let them go, despite being in the air and then laid down to rest. We stood in silence and a variety of butterflies danced amongst us. I look up to the sky and was momentarily mesmerised by the dozens of dragonflies… The Universe was telling us that Naamfon was free…

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As the digger truck covered her body with dirt, I laid down some roses on the spot where she died. I said a final prayer, took another deep breath and wondered to myself if the intense ache in my chest would ever ease…

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I will always hold on to the vision of her striding through the forest, reaching up and snapping off branches to fan herself down with. Her huge ears flapping elegantly, her long legs marching confidently, her devoted mahout following her faithfully…

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Naamfon, I can not find the words to express just how deeply you have touched us. Be free you beautiful lady. Be happy and be you. Walk and run in the long green grass, play in the muddy rivers and trumpet loud – you were loved and you will always be remembered. 

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